Michigan letter results in prompt solution
After an early childhood program assistant sent home an inappropriate religious gift with students, the Monroe County (Mich.) Intermediate School District is ensuring that school policy will be followed by the assistant and other staff in the future.
The faculty member works with children as young as 4, some of whom are disabled, and distributed a gift of Play-Doh to children, along with a letter containing religious references and urging people to pray.
The letter was titled “CHRISTmas is Jesus’s Birthday” and opened, “So for the Jesus gift you could be like this play dough, and let Jesus mold & shape Your Life so Jesus Can use you for His Glory!” The letter encouraged parents to find a church that teaches about Jesus.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Jan. 7 to Superintendent Randy Monday about the illegality of proselytizing to children in public school. She noted it was irrelevant that the assistant included the disclaimer “this is my belief & my gift & is not promoted by the school in any way.”
Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Taylor replied the next day to say that the employee was told about the inappropriateness of her actions and her violation of school policy that states teachers or supervisors must approve items sent home with students.
Parents were also notified that the staff member had violated school policy.
Gideons groups out after FFRF complaints
Gideons International representatives will no longer be allowed in Grant County Schools, Williamstown, Ky., to distribute bibles as a result of a complaint from FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert. A concerned parent contacted FFRF after her child was taken out of class to receive a bible.
Markert pointed out that by allowing Gideons to distribute bibles, the district was “impermissibly endorsing religion by placing its ‘stamp of approval’ on the religious messages contained in the bible.”
Superintendent Ron Livingood responded Nov. 30 and said that he had met with district principals and instructed them not to permit Gideons in schools or on school property.
Markert sent a similar letter Nov. 19 to Robertson County Director of Schools Daniel Whitlow in Springfield, Tenn., responding to a distressed parent whose child was ostracized for not taking a Gideon bible.
Whitlow responded Jan. 8 that all administrators had been notified that bible distribution was against district policies.
ends staff prayer
North Georgia College & State University, Dahlonega, Ga., will no longer be including prayers at university-sponsored events after receiving an FFRF letter of complaint last October. The school is one of six senior military colleges in the U.S.
A concerned student alerted FFRF that at an event that was mandatory for some students, faculty members led attendees in several Christian prayers. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to President Bonita Jacobs: “Including prayer at events at which attendance is mandatory is coercive, embarrassing, and beyond the scope of our public university system.”
Julia Anderson, state senior assistant attorney general, responded Dec. 13 that Jacobs would “remind [all faculty and staff] that prayers shall not be included in university-sponsored events.”
FFRF stills Wisconsin student bell-ringers
FFRF was able to intervene before students at the Medford (Wis.) Area Middle School were sent to ring bells to raise money for the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army’s stated mission is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” It has 11 Christian “articles of faith” and is blatantly discriminatory to gay people.
After a concerned parent contacted FFRF, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent District Administrator Pat Sullivan a letter Dec. 13 pointing out that “while it is laudable for a public school to encourage young students to become active and involved in their community,” the Salvation Army is “an overtly Christian organization.”
Elliott asked Sullivan to inform staff “that they may not continue with their plans to solicit funds for the Salvation Army during the school day.”
Sullivan responded Dec. 17 that the school was no longer planning to send students to ring bells.
FFRF tackles coaches’ prayers in Ohio
Coaches at Spencerville High School in Ohio will no longer pray with their students after Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert’s Nov. 6 letter to Superintendent Joel Hatfield, informing him that “a public school coach’s participation in a team’s prayer circle is illegal and inappropriate.”
Hatfield responded Dec. 17: “As superintendent, I have informed our coaches that they are to no longer lead their athletes in prayer.”
School changes policy after FFRF complaint
The Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School District in New York banned groups from using school facilities for religious worship after FFRF urged it to adopt a revised policy.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a Dec. 3 letter informing the school board that prohibiting the use of school buildings for worship was “in line with current law [as applied in the 2nd Circuit] and is the best policy option.”
Gaylor detailed how start-up churches often take advantage of low rental fees to “get a foot in the door” while collecting church donations on public property, which amounts to “what many of us consider taxpayer subsidy of congregations.”
A church that had been using school facilities retained the American Center for Law & Justice, a Religious Right legal group founded by Pat Robertson, to object to the proposed changes. Despite that opposition, the board amended its policies Dec. 17, adding “Gatherings for the purpose of holding religious worship services” to its list of prohibited uses of school facilities.
FFRF letter gets Iowa park cross removed
A house inside George Wyth State Park near Waterloo, Iowa, will no longer include a display of a lighted Latin cross.
A local complainant reported to FFRF that a large cross was affixed to the garage of a park ranger’s home owned by the state in the park. The cross was highly visible at night from the highway and within the park.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Dec. 14 to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources: “While it is appropriate for the park ranger to display personal religious items inside his home, it crosses the line when he chooses to display Christian symbols on the exterior of his home,” Markert said.
Markert received a phone call Dec. 19 from the DNR that the ranger had been directed to remove the cross.
School replaces hymns with secular songs
Main Street K-3 School in Shelbyville, Ill., removed two Christian hymns from its holiday concert after receiving an FFRF letter. A concerned parent contacted FFRF after learning her child’s concert included “Mary Had a Baby” and “Go, Tell it on the Mountain.”
In a Dec. 17 letter to Superintendent Denise Bence, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said it’s “wholly inappropriate for public schools to perform songs of Christian worship in a public school setting.”
Bence responded Dec. 21 that the songs would be taken out of the program and replaced with secular holiday music.
FFRF stops church’s free school ‘lunch’
Alma (Mich.) Public Schools will now require a church using its facilities to pay a rental fee and remove religious items left scattered around a district school.
The district let Alma Vineyard Church hold Sunday services and frequent events at Republic Alternative High School. The church was allowed to use the kitchen, gym, stage and extra rooms. It also had free use of building supplies and custodial services and was allowed to store religious items, including an 8-foot wooden cross that was left on display in the cafeteria.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter Oct. 19 to Superintendent Sonia Lark, pointing out that the religious symbols left in the school demonstrated “district preference for religion over nonreligion, and Christianity over other religions.”
The school district responded Oct. 23 that the cross and other religious items were removed or covered. The district further informed FFRF on Jan. 3 that the church would now have to pay for custodial services and rental of space.
3 boards ditch prayer after FFRF letters
Three governmental bodies, two in California and one in Georgia, have halted meeting prayers after receiving letters from FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.
Seidel wrote the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, Quincy, Calif., in August and sent several follow-ups before receiving a reply from the county’s counsel Jan 16 that the board voted Jan. 15 to stop the practice. “[T]he invocation will be removed from the agenda, and the county will not solicit invocation speakers.”
The city of Santa Clara, Calif., which previously had sectarian Christian prayers and excluded a Hindu officiant, has abandoned its prayers for a “values statement” after getting a November letter from Seidel.
The language is pious but doesn’t overtly address a supernatural being: “As we gather, we humbly seek blessings upon this meeting. May we act with strength, courage and the will to perform our obligations and duties to our people with justice to all. Let us seek wisdom so that we may act in the best interests of our people, our neighbors and our country. All this we ask so we may serve our community with love and grace, putting their needs before all.”
The city of Forest Park, Ga., received an FFRF letter in September and several follow-ups before City Manager John Parker responded curtly Jan. 10:
“The city of Forest Park no longer participates in prayer during meetings of the City Council.”
U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled Jan. 22 that FFRF’s challenge to a Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania high school will go forward. McVerry rejected a motion to dismiss by the New Kensington-Arnold School District and issued an order that directs the district to file an answer to the plaintiffs’ complaint.
FFRF and two families filed suit in September 2012 against the school district over the prominent placement of a Ten Commandments monument at Valley High School. The district sought to dismiss the case by claiming that it had been “foreclosed” by the Supreme Court’s Van Orden v. Perry decision in 2005, which allowed a similar monument on the Texas Capitol grounds to stand.
FFRF’s brief argued that there are significant factual and legal distinctions between the cases, most notably, that the Supreme Court has ruled against Ten Commandments displays in the school context.
McVerry’s opinion stated that the First Amendment claim “has sufficient merit under our current jurisprudence.” He noted that at this preliminary stage, “there is no meaningful evidence to support the School District’s attack on the merits of Plaintiffs’ case and thus the ‘foreclosure’ argument is unavailing at this time.”
The court issued an order in December that allowed three of the plaintiffs to proceed using pseudonyms, finding that there was a substantial public interest in protecting them from retribution from upset members of the community. The court will hold a scheduling conference in February.
You worry about the goings-on in Wisconsin, and we will pray for you and that God will give you some sense.
Commissioner Tucker Dorsey, Baldwin County, Ala., responding to FFRF’s letter about prayers at commission meetings
Laws, the only redoubt of secularism, will not suffice. Let us all return to our places of worship and pray for help. Above all, let us pray for our children.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, statement on President Obama’s executive actions
A student came up to me at a graduation and said not only did he get a scholarship to college but that the course changed his life. Principals talk about how students carrying their bibles down the hall have improved hall behavior to a point that teachers as hall monitors are no longer necessary.
Phil Murphy, public school board member in Ozark, Ala., contending that a bible as literature course would reduce school shootings
Dothan Eagle, 1-8-12
It’s not the separation of church and state — which, by the way, is NOT in any of our federal papers — that worries these people. It’s the life-changing power of Christianity and the light of truth it shines on the sins of the world, exposing the lies being propagated by the media, the politicians and the universities of this nation.
Column by country singer Charlie Daniels, “There Ain’t No ‘X’ in Christmas”
CNS News, 12-19-12
There’s one thing we know that works, and it’s prayer.
John Lee, Muncie, Ind., part of a Christian group which was let in to pray in every Muncie Community Schools building during winter break
Star Press, 1-3-13
How often do we see girls and mature women going around scantily dressed and in provocative clothes? They provoke the worst instincts, which end in violence or sexual abuse. They should search their consciences and ask: Did we bring this on ourselves?
Fr. Piero Corsi, pastor of the Catholic parish of San Terenzo, Italy, part of a Christmas message posted on the door of the church
Imagine standing in front of your child’s elementary school classroom and explaining to 30 kids why you don’t believe in God, why you don’t pray and why you don’t think there’s a heaven.
Thinking back on my own public schooling, in an environment where everyone was assumed to be a believer (typically a Christian believer) and with our almost universal hesitancy to discuss religion so as not to offend someone else, it’s pretty hard to imagine doing this. It’s what I did, though, as a guest speaker in my son’s fourth-grade class in Accra, Ghana.
I’ve been working in Ghana for a couple of years. I’m stationed here with my family. Generally, one can say that Ghana is an overwhelmingly religious country (predominantly Christian, but with a Muslim minority).
Here, as in many parts of Africa, religious faith is entwined in nearly every aspect of life and society. People commonly greet you with “God bless you,” and it’s very common to see shops with names like “God’s Grace Motor Repair” and “Blood of Christ Hair Salon.” I’m not kidding — you can see a hundred signs like this every day.
As you can imagine, for an atheist and freethinker, it can sometimes be an awkward environment. Since my job requires me to work closely with government and private sector organization leaders in an often high-level capacity, I generally keep my opinions on faith and religiosity like cards held close to the chest.
So when I received a request to speak at my child’s school about atheism, my first thoughts were cautionary about some kind of backlash. I decided though that I owed it to my son to stand up and speak boldly about my own “beliefs.”
My son attends a private international school in Accra. It has about 1,000 students in K-12 who hail from more than 30 countries. Most of the parents are expatriate diplomats, business leaders and wealthier “elite” Ghanaians. The school does not have a religious orientation, and my wife and I have been very pleased with how the school focuses on the holistic development of the individual.
The fourth-grade class had been studying what they call a “unit of inquiry” about human culture and beliefs. They have examined traditions and customs of various cultures, often using specific examples from the diversity of the students’ homes.
Most recently, the class started examining religion -— looking at belief systems, “sacred” texts and places of worship. Almost unbelievably to me, the school organized a series of field trips that took the kids to a Catholic church, an Islamic mosque, a Mormon temple and a Hindu temple. They had tours and presentations by the leaders.
It made me wonder how much people back in the U.S. might flip out if a teacher suggested such a comparative learning experience for their children. Anyway, my son (who has been raised in the open, freethinking, if perhaps a bit anti-religious environment of our home) thoroughly enjoyed the visits. I took a bit of humor out of his reaction that the best part was seeing giant, painted statues of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god.
It seemed fantastic to me that my son’s open-minded teacher was willing to give equal time to a nonreligious viewpoint. He was aware from my son’s unhesitant reportage about our family’s views, so the teacher invited me to be a guest speaker on atheism one afternoon.
Which is atheists’ god?
I was somewhat uncertain about what to say. This was the first time that I would speak publicly about my nonbelief. Knowing how impressionable (and perhaps how easily offended) children this age are, I felt I needed to tread carefully so as not to make an unintended attack on any child’s faith.
I did a bit of research, turning to the Internet for simple definitions and resources about explaining atheism to kids. I found some sites and videos about freethinking parenting, but I think this is an area that we as nonbelievers could develop further.
I spoke first in general terms about whether or not atheism is a religion. For some kids, that it’s not was a hard concept to take on. Several asked up until the end of my presentation, “Now, which god do atheists believe in?”
Others were “with” the concept quickly though, and I had some expected suggestions from the kids when I asked, “What are some reasons why people choose not to believe in a god or a religion?”
One boy enthusiastically ventured that there are many gods out there and someone might not know which one is “right.” A girl said that people may have never seen a god in front of them. I agreed with the kids about these ideas and also added a bit on philosophical arguments, though perhaps not surprisingly this aspect didn’t take too much hold with a young crowd.
Then I turned to the things that atheists do “believe” in, with a caveat that there isn’t a universal view. I talked a bit about science and its ability to empower people to understand the mysteries of the universe around them on their own, without some godly explanation.
I talked about humans having rational minds and the ability to know what is wrong and right and to treat people kindly and with respect — all without needing a religion to point the way.
The most rewarding part perhaps were the 20 or so enthusiastic questions that the kids raised, along with their expectant hands. They asked about my upbringing, if we go to church, if I pray to anyone, what I think about heaven and people who have died (whew, that’s a touchy one with kids you don’t know!) and also a bit about the history of atheism.
One girl gasped in shock when I said that I don’t pray because I don’t think there is anyone to pray to. Some of the kids were also wide-eyed when I said that only a short while ago in Europe and America, and to this day in some areas, people can be attacked or murdered for saying they don’t believe in God or the prevailing religion.
When a child asked about my son’s belief, I was more hesitant, feeling concerned that the welcoming openness of this dialogue might have later repercussions for him from students with less-open minds. I told his classmates that I wanted my son to have an open and exploring mind and to make decisions for himself about what he believes or chooses not to believe. I hope that religion-focused bullying is not something he has to contend with.
At the end, the class clapped and thanked me, and the teacher expressed how great it was to have this exposure to atheism. I’m sure the kids probably moved right on to recess and sports and (hopefully) some studies or homework, but I do hope they took away a bit more enlightened and accepting view of nonbelievers and atheism.
I hope also that my son is encouraged by my own boldness to openly talk about these ideas among others, and that he is strengthened in finding his own understanding and path through nonbelief or belief, as he may choose in the days and years ahead.
FFRF member Ben Kauffeld is a Foreign Service officer with more than 20 years of experience in international development and humanitarian assistance projects.
According to a Jan. 3 story in The Christian Post, out of nearly 7 million visits last year to King James Bible Online, the most-viewed bible verse was Psalm 23:4 — “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
No. 2 was Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Coming in third was the New Testament’s John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The rest of the top 10:
. Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
. 1 Corinthians 13:11 — “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
. 2 Chronicles 7:14 — “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
. Jeremiah 29:11 — “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
. Ephesians 6:12 — “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
. 2 Timothy 1:7 — “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
10. Genesis 1:2 — “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
Editor’s note: The website shipoffools.com, which pokes fun at Christianity, asked readers in 2009 to submit their favorite “worst” bible verses in a project called Chapter & Worse.
No. 1: St. Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy 2:12, in which he says: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s inaugural feature production for use as educational filler on public television affiliates aired more than 1,430 times over three months in late 2012. This is the first such segment featuring discussion of freethought, atheism and focusing on the specific dangers of mixing state and church.
The four-minute “Spotlight on Freethought and the First Amendment” featured interviews with FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. The longer version, over five minutes, included a bonus interview with “secularity” expert, sociologist and author Phil Zuckerman, professor at Pitzer University, Claremont, Calif. Local public TV affiliates were given the option to use either spot, or both, as fillers.
For the first time in the history of Spotlight Productions, more affiliates ran the longer version, “a compliment to Phil Zuckerman,” says Gaylor. The longer version aired 731 times in 136 station airings. The short version aired 699 times with 142 station airings.
The two shows each reached more than 3.6 million public TV viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings. Markets airing one or both of the spots included high population airings such as New York City and Los Angeles, as well as a diversity of smaller markets nationwide. In the Salt Lake City area, for instance, served by five area public TV affiliates including in Provo, FFRF’s spots ran 62 times last fall.
The broadcasts are audited by Nielsen only for the first 3 months after the show is released. But FFRF’s two “Spotlights” may continue to air for years as filler.
View the videos at FFRF’s YouTube Channel. The shorter “abridged” version is at bit.ly/WmTCP2.
The longer “TV” version with Zuckerman is at bit.ly/P8TZfT.
A “bonus track” version of nearly seven minutes, which includes additional footage with Dan Barker, is prominently featured at FFRF’s website, ffrf.org and at bit.ly/V7kan5.
Name: Hemant Mehta.
Where I live: Naperville, Ill.
Where and when I was born: Just outside of Chicago, 1983.
Education: University of Illinois-Chicago, 2004, double major in math/biology; DePaul University, 2010, master’s in math education; national board-certified teacher, 2012.
Occupation: High school math teacher.
How I got where I am today: After leaving medical school in order to become a teacher, I had some free time and began working closely with the Secular Student Alliance and also started my website, FriendlyAtheist.com. Both of those experiences have helped me develop into an activist, and I hope to keep improving on that in a variety of ways!
Where I’m headed: Thankfully, not downward.
Person in history I admire: It’s always inspiring to hear about those who challenge the status quo to make things better for various minority groups. I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of atheists who have done sort of consciousness-raising in our own movement.
A quotation I like: “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”
These are a few of my favorite things: My students, great books, crossword puzzles, “The Daily Show,” Twitter.
These are not: People whose sole purpose in life is to put other people down.
My doubts about religion started: When I started high school. It turned out my parents’ religion (Jainism) couldn’t withstand tougher scrutiny.
Instead of “thank God” or “God bless you,” I say: Gesundheit.
Why I’m a freethinker: It’s empowering when you know the truth about something the majority of the country is completely wrong about.
Ways I promote freethought: I blog at FriendlyAtheist.com to spread news and stories about atheism. I am a board member for the Foundation Beyond Belief and work to encourage other atheists to give money to secular charities.
I serve on the Advisory Board of the Secular Student Alliance because they focus on helping young atheists. To promote my ideas, I’ve written a few books, the most recent of which is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.
In 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its four staff attorneys impressively won more than 150 significant legal victories using education and persuasion, without having to go to court.
FFRF received more than 2,460 requests (whew!) last year for help from members, or members of the public, over entanglements between state and church. FFRF officially doubled its staff attorneys in 2012, going from two to four, to handle the caseload.
They or FFRF’s co-presidents sent 1,005 formal letters objecting to state/church violations last year. It may take many follow-up letters to get results, and those follow-up letters are not included in the letter count.
The majority of FFRF legal letters involve religion in the public schools, followed by prayer at government meetings such as city council or county board meetings. Two-thirds of FFRF’s victories involved ending violations in public schools, which FFRF prioritizes.
Prayer in schools is the largest subcategory within school complaints. FFRF also sent letters of complaint to more than 100 government bodies or departments over prayer. Most involve city or county board prayer, but there are also many complaints over city-hosted prayer breakfasts and prayer proclamations.
Top 10 states for violations
(most FFRF complaint letters):
5. North Carolina
Top ten issue areas:
2. Government Prayer
4. Holiday Displays
5. Religion in the Workplace
6. Election Law Complaints
8. Prayer Breakfasts
9. Church Bulletins
10. National Day of Prayer
2012 legal victories
These include but are not limited to:
• The Federal Election Commission, in response to a complaint filed by FFRF in 2008, found that the Colorado group Informed Catholic Citizens violated election laws in issuing a robocall by a priest who advocated for the election of John McCain.
• The Kiel Area School District Board of Education (Wis.) voted down a proposal to teach “alternative theories of the origins of man within the science curriculum” after FFRF pressured the board to follow case law prohibiting such instruction in public schools.
• An FFRF complaint prompted Henrico County (Va.) officials to drop the 25-year-old tradition of offering meeting prayers before Board of Supervisors meetings.
• The Kannapolis City Council (N.C.) ended prayers before meetings, replacing the prayers with a moment of silence.
• FFRF secured the right of students at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga., to start a “FACT” group (Freethinkers for Cooperation Acceptance and Trust) after the school had denied their right to create the student group.
• After months of debate, the Ellwood City Borough Council (Pa.) voted to remove a long-standing nativity display in front of the borough’s municipal building.
• Five Pennsylvania school boards (Big Spring, Octorara, Greencastle-Antrim, Eastern Lancaster, Grove City) dropped prayer before board meetings after letters from FFRF.
• FFRF stopped future religious assemblies by Dave Walton (braggingforjesus.com/) at a Tennessee middle/high school.
• FFRF’s letter of complaint resulted in removal of a cross from a Nebraska state park and outside a park ranger’s home in George Wyth State Park on Iowa state property.
• FFRF’s letter of complaint resulted in Washoe County Libraries in Nevada remaining open on Easter Sunday.
• FFRF stopped mayoral sponsorship and coordination of monthly prayer breakfasts in Augusta, Ga.
• The City of Tucson, Ariz., rescinded a grant to the Catholic Church of $1.1 million to fix a building it had abandoned after FFRF’s letter of complaint, records request, and action alert to FFRF members in Arizona.
• In another faith-based victory, the West Linn, Ore., City Council rescinded a $1,300 grant to a local church and removed paid, government employees from the church’s advisory board after a letter from FFRF.
• Thanks to FFRF, Catholic Social Services of Augusta, Ga., will no longer receive free lawn maintenance from the U.S military.
• A family court in Jackson, Mo., has reprimanded a pastor for hijacking a secular class meant to teach divorced parents how to help their children and injecting it with his religious rant. The court is looking for other teachers and sites other than his church.
• Bret Harte Union High School (Calif.) will no longer release student information to the local Catholic diocese.
• Peach County senior center employees will no longer pray with their charges or read the bible to them at meal times and special occasions.
• The Assessment Appeals Board in San Francisco implemented procedural changes to eliminate the use of a religious oath when swearing in parties at hearings.
• COLT bus system in Scranton, Pa., discontinued the practice of displaying “God Bless America” on their electronic tickers after FFRF wrote to them in February.
• FFRF halted (or stopped for the future) illegal Gideon bible distribution in public schools in Magnolia, Ark., Boydton, Va., Robertson County, Tenn., and Grant County, Ky., among other public school districts.
• The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga discontinued its long tradition of prayer before its football games after continued pressure.
• FFRF persuaded the Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School district (N.Y.) from using school facilites for religious worship.
• FFRF was able to address several complaints regarding the inappropriate use of government emails, putting a halt to religious messages at four different agencies.
• FFRF stopped numerous prayer violations and other religious indoctrination at schools around the country.
• FFRF had a total of 11 victories in 2012 ending church bulletin discounts, in which restaurants or places of public accommodation were illegally discounting meals or tickets for those bearing church bulletins. These are violations of the Civil Rights Act.
Many complaints from 2012 and earlier are still actively being pursued, with other victories pending.
Although not all complaints can be acted on, FFRF’s attorneys try hard to respond to bonafide state/church queries. FFRF also hosts an extensive State/Church FAQ: ffrf.org/faq/state-church
Before contacting FFRF, you may wish to check out the FAQ. Complaints over state/church violations may be sent via the online complaint form:
These victories are in addition to FFRF’s litigation. FFRF has filed well over 60 lawsuits since it began, winning many significant victories, and through December 2012 had nine ongoing lawsuits. In 2012, FFRF successfully settled two additional lawsuits: its challenge of a cross on a water tower and other city property in Whiteville, Tenn., and its challenge removing a Ten Commandments poster from a high school in Giles County, W. Va., brought with the ACLU of Virginia.
FFRF last year won an appeals court decision in Colorado state court in which a judge agreed with FFRF that the governor’s Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations are inappropriate.
Last year, FFRF filed four new lawsuits: challenging Ten Commandments monuments in front of two schools in Pennsylvania (two separate federal lawsuits), challenging graduation prayer in a South Carolina high school, and its highly popular challenge of non-enforcement by the IRS of its ban on church electioneering.
FFRF works with a number of litigation attorneys, including some pro bono, with staff attorneys providing help.
Congratulations to FFRF’s diligent and committed staff attorneys Rebecca Markert, Patrick Elliott, Andrew Seidel, outgoing attorney Stephanie Schmitt and new intake attorney Liz Cavell. Also deserving of much credit are FFRF’s 2012 law clerks: Ken Earl, Susan Lund, Dustin Clark, Maddy Ziegler, JJ Rolling, Ben Zich, and undergraduate volunteer interns Svein Hoexter, Brendan Moriarity and Calli Miller.
Your membership and additional donations designated for the Legal Fund help pay for this substantial litigation and the work of staff attorneys. Special thanks to Board Member Lester Goldstein, who created an internship endowment with the help of other FFRF members setting aside a minimum of $5,000 a year to help pay for internships.
Many thanks to Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert for her very thorough legal report which provided the details for this article.
I have prayed before not to have another child, but the condom worked better.
Giselle Labadan, roadside vendor in Manila, on a new law opposed by the Catholic Church in the Philippines that provides public funding for contraception
Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 1-8-13
While I was younger, my father drank a lot. There was abuse in the home. My brother committed suicide in 2001. So at some point you start to say, “Why does all this stuff happen to people?” And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be I’m being tried? I find that almost kind of cruel in some ways. It’s like burning ants with a magnifying glass. Eventually that gets just too hard to believe anymore.
Rigoberto Perez, 30, raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, “More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why?”
NPR “Morning Edition,” 1-15-13
Between banning gay marriage and requiring school prayer, too many legislators are intent on turning Indiana into a religious state as repressive, intellectually stultifying and ultimately insulting of their own God as any on the planet. It’s time for them to learn a new R: Reality.
Columnist/reporter Phil Wieland, opposing a bill by the state Senate’s Education Committee chairman to let public schools require daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer
Northwest Indiana Times, 1-11-13
Wise atheists make no moral claims, seeing good and bad randomly spread among humanity regardless of faith. Humans do have a hardwired moral sense, every child born with an instinct for justice that makes us by nature social animals, not needing revelations from ancient texts. The idea that morality can only be frightened into us artificially, by divine edict, is degrading.
Polly Toynbee, outgoing president of the British Humanist Association
The Guardian, 12-16-12
I noticed something interesting. Those two guys disagreed on everything, except the fact that I was going to hell.
Doug Krueger, an atheist and professor at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, on sharing an office with a Catholic and a Baptist when he was a Ph.D. student
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1-10-13
Commonly known to biographers but often surprising to most Christians, King James I was a well-known bisexual. Though he did marry a woman, his many gay relationships were so well-known that amongst some of his friends and court, he was known as “Queen James.” It is in his great debt and honor that we name the Queen James Bible so.
Publisher’s statement on new bible translation, “edited to prevent homophobic misinterpretation”
This report confirms that the code is 10 times the size of the bible with none of the good news.
U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, on a new study of the U.S. tax code
U.S. News & World Report, 1-10-13
Man, this is weird for me too — to be in a room where I don’t recognize a single person. And you call yourself a Christian nation. . . . I am totally cool with hookers. Fishermen and hookers. I got a whole fishnet motif going.
Matt Gubser, portraying Jesus in the “Holiday Heathens” comedy show at the Punch Line in San Francisco
Religion News Service, 12-13-12
The bible has outsold Fifty Shades of Grey and Justin Bieber’s autobiography to top the Norwegian bestseller charts this month for a second year in a row. The new Norwegian translation of the bible has held the top spot for 54 out of the last 56 weeks.
Christian Today, 12-18-12
I’ve explained to them that some people believe God is waiting for them, but I don’t believe that. I believe when you die, it’s over and you live on in the memory of people you love and who love you. I can’t offer them the comfort of a better place. Despite all the evils and problems in the world, this is the heaven — we’re living in the heaven and it’s the one we work to make. It’s not a paradise.
Julie Drizin, Takoma Park, Md., quote in “Atheist parents comfort children about death without talk of God or heaven”
Washington Post, 12-22-12
It’s an opportunity to get out of the cold, have a cigar and learn some bible.
Larry Gilbert, member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran bible study group that meets at Cigar Cigars, Rocky River, Ohio
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1-18-13
On their bare backs, the women had painted “In Gay We Trust” and “Shut Up.”
News story about four women who went topless in St. Peter’s Square during an appearance by Pope Benedict, who “appeared not to have been disturbed”
Belfast Telegraph, 1-13-13
An atheist is no more necessarily moral or better than a Christian or Muslim. The difference is an atheist isn’t tied to an ignorant, dated and immoral religious text and therefore doesn’t need to make excuses for such. An atheist doesn’t claim that anyone who doesn’t believe like they do will be punished forever. An atheist doesn’t abandon reason for convenience or fear of death. An atheist doesn’t dismiss science for childish myths. An atheist takes the universe as it is without magic.
James Kirk Wall, Wheaton, Ill., “Why be an atheist?”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation released its third musical CD in January, “Adrift on a Star,” featuring Dan Barker and friends. The title song is Barker’s arrangement of a Yip Harburg poem.
The album’s showpiece is “Poor Little Me,” a collaboration between Barker, who wrote the lyrics, and Charles Strouse, the Broadway icon (“Annie,” “Bye Bye Birdie”), who’s also an atheist who received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2011.
“I had the pleasure of sitting next to Charles at the 2011 FFRF convention dinner,” says Dan. “We chatted about music, the many Broadway and other composers who are nonreligious, and he said if I sent him some lyrics, he would put them to music. So I did and he did. It’s truly a collaboration, because Charles threw away about half of my lyrics, and it’s a much better song for it!”
What’s left are subtly humorous lyrics and rich music blended into a winning song.
Dan, who had a musical ministry as an ordained minister before “seeing the light” and is still receiving royalties for his Christian musicals for children, has now written scores of freethought songs in what he calls “reverse penance.”
Other new songs in the album include “Get Off Your Knees (And Get to Work),” dedicated to “Gov. Rip Van-Perry Winkle, who has slept not 30 but 2,030 years,” “Reason,” inspired by the D.C. Reason Rally, and Dan’s humorous “Unfaithful.” Dismissing belief in a deity, the lyrics say: “I want you to know it isn’t me — it’s you.”
Susan Hofer, a talented jazz vocalist in Madison, Wis., performs Dan’s jazz ballad, a love song, “It’s Only Natural,” inspired by Richard Dawkins’ book Unweaving the Rainbow, which makes a plea to integrate science and art. The song has been oft-requested since Dan wrote it in 2006.
He’s also set to music several poems by Harburg from Rhymes for the Irreverent, a collection of verses reprinted by FFRF. Another musical icon, Harburg, a nonbeliever who openly scoffed at religion, wrote “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” among many, many enduring classics.
To showcase many of Harburg’s witty rhymes about religion, Dan set them to music in “Somewhere Over the Paper Moon,” performed as a duet with Hofer.
Dan also performs Harburg’s song “One Sweet Morning,” a lovely but rarely recorded peace anthem with a freethought perspective. The music is by Earl Robinson (“Joe Hill”). Dan set plaintive music to poet and lyricist Philip Appleman’s cautionary “In a Dark Time,” written in the mid-2000s. Dan also recorded “Experiment,” a little-known paean to science and critical thinking by Cole Porter, who was nonreligious. By popular request of FFRF’s staff, Dan recorded a G-rated version of “Merry F&*#ing Christmas” from “South Park.”
Cameo appearances include Australian freethought/feminist troubadour Shelly Segal, who graciously gave FFRF permission to include her haunting song “I Don’t Believe in Fairies,” and Joe Taylor, formerly a Christian rocker, who recorded his first freethought song, “Be Still My Child,” for the album.
Also included is “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” sung by Hofer and arranged by Dan with a local band. Bonus tracks include a few extras.
FFRF Rob Shepherd plays the saxophone on several songs, and FFRF member Buzz Kemper, announcer of Freethought Radio, engineered the album at Audio for the Arts in Madison.
FFRF members may order the CD “Adrift on a Star” for a discounted $15 postpaid ($20 postpaid for nonmembers). “Adrift on a Star” joins FFRF’s two previous CDs, featuring Barker and friends. “Beware of Dogma” is also available for $15 to members.
The 34-song “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,” with many contemporary and historic freethought songs, also featuring Kristen Lems, is available for $20 to members via the mail or ffrf.org/shop/music. (Note: The online shop calculates postage based on weight and location, so final online price may vary slightly from mail catalog price.)