“If the Supreme Court won’t uphold the Constitution, it’s up to us — it’s up to you” is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s homily in response to the high court’s May 5 ruling approving sectarian prayer at official government meetings. The ruling is a personal blow to the stature and rights of U.S. nonbelievers and non-Christians, as well as to secular government.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that governments can not only host prayers, those prayers can be pervasively sectarian: “To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.” First Amendment champion Ellery Schempp, FFRF Lifetime Member from Massachusetts, who began the protest that led to a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools, emailed on the day of the ruling: “FFRF is vital after the awful Greece decision. This is why we need FFRF!”
FFRF, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with more than 20,000 atheist and agnostic members nationwide, has responded to the hostile court ruling by announcing a “Nothing Fails Like Prayer Award.”
The award will be given to citizens who succeed in delivering secular “invocations” at government meetings. The individual judged to give the “best” secular invocation will be invited to open FFRF’s annual convention with said “invocation,” receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to FFRF’s 37th annual convention at the Los Angeles Biltmore and an honorarium of $500.
Linda Stephens, the atheist plaintiff in the Greece challenge brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is a longtime member of FFRF, who became a Lifetime Member following the ruling. Both she and co-plaintiff Susan Galloway will be named Freethinkers of the Year and accept the award at FFRF’s convention Oct. 24-26. (See more, back page.)
Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the “swing vote,” not only voted in lockstep with his four ultra-conservative Catholic brethren but wrote the Greece ruling.
“Once again, the lopsided conservative majority has proudly announced that it is on the wrong side of history,” commented FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, quipping about Kennedy: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
The one silver lining in Kennedy’s decision was this reference: “The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation.”
“Freethinkers: It’s time to crash the party, to ask for equal time to give our own atheist homilies and freethought invocations at local board meetings,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, who, with Anne Nicol Gaylor, cofounded FFRF in the late 1970s to successfully protest prayers at their local governmental meetings.
Already, a member of FFRF in Greece has received permission to give an atheist homily before the city meeting in July.
Government prayer remains one of the most common complaints FFRF receives from its members and members of the public.
Gaylor noted that despite the approval of sectarian governmental prayer by five Supreme Court justices, government bodies are not required to open with prayer. “We’d like to see secular citizens flood government meetings with secular invocations that illustrate why government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, divisive, embarrassing and exclusionary of the 20-30 percent of the U.S. population today that identifies as nonreligious, as well as of other non-Christians,” Gaylor said.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who suggested the award, notes that many of our nation’s most influential founders opposed governmental exercises of religion, including revolutionary Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, who refused in his two terms to issue days of prayer, and James Madison, fourth president and primary architect of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Secular invocations for the contest could be sincere and eloquent, such as state Rep. Juan Mendez’s invocation before the Arizona House last year, for which he won FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award. You may wish to “invoke”secular “founding fathers,” your own life philosophy or take a more facetious route (think Flying Spaghetti Monster). The goal is to represent the nonreligious point of view and show that government bodies have no need of a prayer to imagined gods, or religion or superstition, to govern. The answers won’t come from above and government needs to be guided by reason.
“Government officials need to get off their knees and get to work,” said Barker, adding, “Be a Paine in the government’s Mass.”
FFRF plans to make the contest an annual event until the Greece decision is overturned. All eligible secular invokers will receive a certificate suitable for framing, and FFRF will post the invocation on its website.
Read full contest rules at:
For “inspiration,” download a free copy of Barker’s songs “Get Off Your Knees and Get to Work” (from FFRF CD, “Adrift on a Star”) and “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” (from FFRF CD, “Beware of Dogma”) at FFRF’s website (select CD, then scroll play list to find free downloads): ffrf.org/shop/music/.
Read various early May FFRF blogs about the ruling, at ffrf.org/news/blog/.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ended all prayer before the city council in Pismo Beach, Calif., with a settlement reached April 15. That victory has become all the sweeter following the Supreme Court’s unfortunate May 5 decision “blessing” sectarian governmental prayer. (See related story, this page.)
FFRF’s victory will hold, since the lawsuit was brought in state court and did not invoke federal law.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, the Pismo Beach City Council, which had dug in its heels after locals complained about its prayer practice, surprised observers by totally capitulating to FFRF requests. The council voted to stop all prayers at official meetings and to abolish a city chaplain position that had anointed a Pentecostal preacher to intone long sermons to begin meetings.
FFRF and Dr. Sari Dworkin, a Pismo Beach resident and FFRF member, sued the city Nov. 1, 2013, in Superior Court in San Luis Obispo, alleging the official prayers and chaplaincy violated the California Constitution.
Before each council meeting, city Chaplain Paul Jones or one of his religious substitutes delivered a Christian prayer. Prayers often included egregious factual mistakes, including manufactured theocratic quotes attributed to America’s founders. Jones’ prayers pressured citizens to live a Christian or biblical lifestyle, to vote for “righteous” leaders and make decisions that “honor” his god.
The city agreed to pay the plaintiffs nominal damages and attorney fees totaling about $47,500 and to end the practice of praying at meetings and abolish the chaplain position. The settlement carries the force of law and will be accompanied by a court order.
“This is a significant victory that FFRF intends to build on,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Pismo Beach established an official city chaplaincy in 2005 and appointed Jones to the post. He’s affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which emphasizes “speaking in tongues.”
Jones delivered 112 of the 126 prayers scheduled by the council between Jan. 1, 2008, and Oct. 15, 2013. All but one of the 126 prayers was addressed to the Christian god.
FFRF warmly thanks local plaintiff Sari Dworkin, litigation attorney Pamela Koslyn and FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who built the solid case. Seidel transcribed many of the prayers and joked that such work was “cruel and inhumane” for an atheist attorney. Atheists United of San Luis Obispo and its members helped initiate the lawsuit.
FFRF will receive $27,000 for Seidel’s services and plans to recycle the fees to go after other California governmental prayer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's talented graphic design intern, Sam Erickson, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has designed a number of images for FFRF members to utilize in protesting the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling. Some of them are already up on FFRF's Facebook page and Twitter account.
Sam is also president of UW-Madison's Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics campus group.
Please feel free to use the images in educating about the harm of the court's decision. FFRF has taken the lead in calling for the repeal of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the basis for the ruling that puts the religious beliefs of corporate employers over the conscience and rights of women workers to choose their own forms of birth control.
Click image to open high resolution PDF
A full-page ad in The New York Times protesting the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling June 30 is being sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog representing over 20,000 nonbelieving members. It's expected to run in the front news section Thursday, July 3.
Featuring an arresting portrait of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, whose motto was "No Gods — No Masters," the ad criticizes the "all-male, all-Roman Catholic majority" on the Supreme Court for putting "religious wrongs over women's rights."
FFRF had previously submitted a friend of the court brief written by noted First Amendment scholar Marci Hamilton, urging the Supreme Court to declare the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) unconstitutional. Christian entrepreneurs running large chains challenged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, contending their corporate "religious rights" were violated under RFRA if their women employees chose forms of contraception the company owners disapproved of because of their religion.
"Allowing employers to decide what kind of birth control an employee can use is not, as the Supreme Court ruled, an 'exercise of religion.' It is an exercise of tyranny. Employers should have no right to impose their religious beliefs upon workers," reads the ad.
"Dogma should not trump our civil liberties."
FFRF has taken the lead in calling for the repeal of RFRA.
"None of our civil rights, established after decades and decades of struggle and education, will be safe until RFRA is overturned," commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. She called the Supreme Court decision "outrageous and untenable."
View the ad here.
"By enacting RFRA, Congress went far beyond what this Court has held is constitutionally required." — Justice Samuel Alito
It was all over by page 2 of the Supreme Court's decision yesterday favoring the fundamentalist Christian owner of Hobby Lobby Stores and the Mennonite owner of Conestoga Wood Specialties.
Justice Samuel Alito, joined by his ultra-conservative, Roman Catholic brethren, actually wrote these jaw-dropping words:
"[W]e must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions."
These fanatical businessmen believe some forms of the birth control pill and IUD are abortifacients (substances inducing miscarriage), despite the science, the reality, the amicus brief of the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and 21 other medical professional groups thoroughly debunking this misrepresentation.
Steeped in Catholic disapproval of contraception, much less abortion, Alito and his four brethren probably also prefer to make believe that an IUD is an abortifacient. But even if Alito didn't agree with the plaintiffs, he ruled that what matters is not reality, but whether a religious person "believes" even in the face of reality that a fiction is a fact.
The decision was decided on the basis of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993, which held that the federal government is prohibited from taking any substantial action that "substantially burdens the exercise of religion," unless it's the least restrictive means of serving a "compelling government interest." RFRA actually refers to "persons" in the law, but under the Citizens United line of "reasoning," for-profit corporations are now people, and seemingly have religious feelings to offend.
Alito warns that if the corporations flouted the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, they could "pay a very heavy price, as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would," he adds.
Yet he gives no truck to the fact that, for instance, Hobby Lobby did not seek a "grandfather clause" for its health care coverage, as was its right as a company that was offering coverage prior to the AFA. Clearly, they blew it, but Alito won't admit this.
He also gives short shrift to the argument of his "sisters" on the Supreme Court — Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor — who pointed out during oral arguments that if the companies didn't want to comply with the law, they could forgo providing health care benefits and instead pay the appropriate tax (erroneously referred to by the companies' attorneys as a "penalty").
Alito even admits in his decision that perhaps this would cost the companies less money than providing health care. But he claims that Health and Human Services didn't mention this in its briefings, so the court's not allowed to take that into account.
Most damning, Alito admits: "As we have seen, RFRA was designed to provide very broad protection for religious liberty. By enacting RFRA, Congress went far beyond what this Court has held is constitutionally required."
Even Alito admits RFRA goes "far beyond" what is required. The Freedom From Religion Foundation so far is the only group actively sounding the alarm about RFRA. Our brief, written by distinguished attorney Marci Hamilton, was the only amicus brief submitted before the high court stating the obvious: that Hobby Lobby is relying on a statute enacted by Congress that' unconstitutional.
While clearly this Supreme Court isn't going to overturn RFRA, Alito's own words should give Congress impetus to repeal a law that is being used to deny true religious liberty in the name of phony religious liberty. Excessive "liberty" is otherwise known as "license" — or religious privilege.
Lost in the meaningless verbiage of Alito's ruling is the decision's human toll. He and his Catholic cohorts may care about ova, but the rest of us care about real women. We thought the battle to access at least contraception was largely won by the late 1960s (even though many teenagers, and women in rural counties served only by Catholic hospitals and clinics, are still fighting for this right). But fundamentalists and conservative Catholics are working in concert now, not only seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), but apparently Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent gets real. "It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage."
When women cannot control if and when they become pregnant, how many pregnancies they carry, they can ultimately control very little about their lives. It's no coincidence that women reentered the workforce in huge numbers during the second wave of the feminist movement after the birth control pill had been introduced and Comstockian laws declaring contraceptives to be "indecent articles" were overturned, leading to routine access to contraception as part of good medicine.
The backlash against contraceptive access is part of the same old song and dance led by patriarchal religions worldwide: kinder, kirche, küche. Keep women barefoot and pregnant. Control the means of reproduction and you control women, as Gloria Steinem has oft stated.
The high court has ruled that contraception — the right to plan families and avert unwanted pregnancies — is not necessary for women's health. One in four U.S. women died due to pregnancy or childbirth in the 19th century. It is a lie for the Supreme Court to aver that birth control is not preventive medicine. The court is practicing reckless medicine without a license.
We cannot let a male, Catholic, ultra-conservative majority on the court turn the clock back a century. Join FFRF in working now for the most practical remedy for this pernicious decision — the repeal by Congress of RFRA.
None of our civil and human rights, established after decades and decades of struggle and education, will be safe from the reach of religious bigots until RFRA is overturned.
Photo: Christopher Johnson, "A Better Life: 100 Atheists"
Today, in a heated 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that for-profit corporations can exercise their so-called religious conscience in order to restrict employees' access to contraceptives. The ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., absurdly holds that the contraceptive coverage granted by the Affordable Care Act creates a "significant burden" on a corporation's free exercise of religion.
How could this be? This Alice in Wonderland ruling is based not on the Constitution, but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a statute. This statute was adopted by Congress and must be repealed by Congress.
The main justification for this decision is the Supreme Court's holding that RFRA protects Hobby Lobby from the generally applicable rules of the Affordable Care Act.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's amicus brief by noted state-church attorney Marci A. Hamilton (joined by groups advocating for the rights of victims of religious abuse), was the only brief before the Supreme Court that argued that RFRA is unconstitutional. Our important brief points out that RFRA "accords religious believers extreme religious liberty rights that yield a political and fiscal windfall in violation of the clearest commands of the Establishment Clause."
A public outcry is in order. FFRF needs your help to tell Congress that RFRA is a bad law that must be repealed.
Today's decision is both dangerous and unprecedented. During oral arguments, counsel for the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, noted that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would be "the first time under the Free Exercise Clause or under RFRA in which [the Supreme Court] or any court has held that an employer . . . may be granted an exemption that extinguishes statutorily guaranteed benefits of fundamental importance."
Today's ruling ignored the rights and needs of thousands of female Hobby Lobby employees, and millions of women nationwide who work at for-profit corporations. Women workers must not be at the mercy of employers who happen to be religious fanatics who want to intrude into private reproductive decisions that are none of their business. Rather than protecting women workers' right to health care and women's freedom of conscience, the Court has turned its back on them in the name of "religious liberty." This is untenable.
This damaging decision opens the floodgates for corporations, interested only in increasing their bottom line, to claim religious objections to a variety of generally applicable laws. The Court arbitrarily claims its decision would not necessarily allow a corporation to claim a similar religious objection to blood transfusions, vaccines, or mental health services, or create a religious right to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or race. But very obviously, the ruling creates mischievous precedent that will haunt the next generation of litigation.
Please immediately call, email and write:
Demand that your representatives in Congress uphold women's rights over religious wrongs, and restore some semblance of fairness to our corporate system, by repealing RFRA now.
Use your own words if possible, or cut and paste any of the wording below. Always identify yourself as a constituent. (Also see FFRF's statement on the Hobby Lobby ruling for more arguments.)
I am writing as your constituent to urge you to take action in the wake of the Supreme Court's unprecedented decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Please take action to repeal the misguided Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been used to decide that a corporation trumps the civil and reproductive rights of women workers to choose their own form of contraception.
I'm dismayed and frightened by the implications of this decision, which puts the personal religious views of corporate executives above the rights of tens of thousands of employees. Corporations are not people and a corporation cannot practice religion. Yet the Supreme Court has ruled that the access to contraceptive coverage granted by the Affordable Care Act creates a significant burden on a corporation's free exercise of religion. The decision is completely divorced from reality!
The main justification for this outlandish decision is the Supreme Court's holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects Hobby Lobby from the generally applicable rules of the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of Congress's original intent, RFRA has become an untenable law. It carves out vast exceptions to neutral laws that only certain religious sects can claim. In the corporate context, this provides an unfair competitive advantage to any corporation willing to claim that it has a religious objection to a regulation.
Employers should not have a right to deny fundamental rights to employees in the name of "religious liberty." Please introduce or sign onto a bill to repeal RFRA immediately.
Today marks a turning point in the struggle to uphold the First Amendment to our Constitution. FFRF needs your help more than ever. This is a call to you, and to ask you to reach out to those you know. Please forward this email and encourage others to join us.
Some suggested destinations for freethinkers besides the ever-popular hell and Honduras (murder capital of the world) come via the crank mail, printed as received.
ten commandments: ten commandments is every americans rite if you want to change the laws in your state that’s fine stay out of our business in north Idaho we love god here if you choose to walk in darkness that’s your choice but here we will fight you tooth and nail to keep our rites as americans stay out of our business here believe if you want a war on this matter we will stay the fuck out of our business go worship the devil and keep working for satin. — tom johnson, coer d alene, idaho
Walker’s religious tweet: Wow, have you two lunatics become unhinged! Wanna take me up on a public challenge to either of you, Barker or Gaylord, for a debate on the Bill of Rights, Constitution and Declaration of Independence? Say YES (which I would crave) and I’ll dissect and dismantle your horribly flawed constitutional views. The ball is in your court. Game? — Ned Kareiva
Hello Dan: You sir are a problem. Look at today’s society and ask yourself, is it better now with the FFRF crapping in everyone’s cereal or was it better in earlier times say before the late 1960’s. Check the statistics on out of wedlock child birth, abortions (hell, half the black pregnancies were aborted in NYC, Eugenicists will celebrate that little number). Let me be clear, I am an extremely poor example of a Christian, but for fucks sake, you guys are doing more damage to society than the Scott Walkers of the world. But, maybe that is what you want. Have a nice day. — Mike Williams, Blossom, Texas
Gideon Bible removal: Prior to sending this, I have prayed and claimed that the supernatural presence of God move through this email to everyone in your organization, and that everyone in your organization be saved. Every knee will bow, every tongue confess. — Terri McMahan
10 Commandments in park: Take your heathen bullshit out of my state and go corrupt shitconsin you wannabe Nazi pigs. — Jake Rogers, Sandpoint, Idaho
Police chief’s prayer walks: If you want to be a none believer, be one. Don’t interfear with others freedom of religon. We dont bother you athiest’s even if you’re gonna burn, it’s you’re choice. Don’t try to take the rest of the world with you, go burn by yourself and mind your business. That is one of the biggest problem’s today...Minority’s trying to make majority’s bow down to there stupid want’s and demand’s. Mind your own fucking business. — Richard Lovelace, Crane Hill, Ala.
Atheists and the Bible: You will never convince me to your viewpoint, because at one time I “was” you. You have no idea how wonderful the freeing from self becomes once you trust in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and shedding of blood on the cross just for you! — A. Barry Hess
Freedom OF Religion: This country was founded on “FREEDOM OF RELIGION”. My ancestors had to leave Europe because they were Lutheran Ministers and were threatened with death. Many of the early European immigrants got along quite well with the Native Americans and provided much mutual support. Sadly, Atheists and Atheistic Agnostics now want to force us out of OUR country. I say OUR country because my religious ancestors founded it. Hitler was only two month short of world domination and the execution of all Jews. Some of the Jewish in the 1930’s could run to the U.S. for safety. But if FFRF gets the IRS and the Justice Dept. to persecute us and force religious groups out of the U.S., like Hitler did to Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s, WHERE ARE WE TO GO? — Burns Searfoss, Colorado Springs
You Suck: Crawl back under your rocks and STFU! — Jimmy Door, Wisconsin
Comment’s on Hannity: I would like to respond to your assertion that most free societies were free from religion? How did that work in Russia? China? Burma? Honduras, Venezuela? Nepal? North Korea? Vietnam? Cambodia? Laos? What happened to Christians in Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czech? What about Georgia? Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia. They were free of religion weren’t they? — Charles Kunold, California
I have a Challenge: Apparently, you folks have allot social & legal clout. Why don’t you go after the Evangelists that are transplanting approx.1000 middle east refugees into Appleton & other Wisconsin cities; and other states. You worry about our tax dollars spent in the name of religion!! The estimated End cost is 750Grand to a million a person. This is really imposing religion on the general populace at our expense. — Axel Roberts, Menasha, Wis.
Freedom From Religion Foundation: I WOULD LIKE TO ASK YOU ONE THING! HOW DOES IT FEEL....TO BE THE ASS-HOLES OF AMERICA? — Stan Knowles, North Carolina
Freedom of Speech: No where in the Constitution does it talk about seperation of Church and State. That came about from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine or vice versa. Atheism is a religion itself and u can’t even see it. You believe in God. You have to believe in something to deny it’s existence. By the way, God loves u and their is nothing u can do about it. — Robert Jacquart
Praying for you: I PRAY IN JESUS’ NAME THAT HE WILL TOUCH EACH MEMBER OF YOUR GROUP. I WILL HELP FIGHT IN BRINGING BACK PRAYER IN SCHOOLS, AND CHRIST IS THE THE REASON FOR EVERY SEASON. I KNOW WHERE I AM GOING TO SPEND ETERNITY. DO YOU? — Lynne Carroll, Toledo, Ohio
Gov. Walker: I read your letter in response to Gov. Walker’s tweet and I just wanted to tell you, Aw, get to your fainting couch, Myrtle, and stop blighting the public sphere with your presence. I would also suggest that your co-presidents do not operate any motor vehicles, as the grotesque lack of perspective they demonstrated in that letter means that they would pose a serious collision threat to both themselves and other drivers. — Karl Collins, New York
stay out of our religion!!! GOOD GRIEVE GIVE ME A BRAKE !! WHEN WILL YOU STOP WHEN THERE IS NO RELIGION LEFT AND WE ARE ALL ATHEIST!! YOU REALLY PISS ME OFF WITH PUSHING YOU LEFT WING AGENDA ON US!! JUST SHUT UP!! — Mieke Sijen, Long Beach, Calif.
The Bible: It is a love letter from God to us. Why would you want to deprive people of that! By the way...ALL your efforts are in vain. You can TRY to remove Him but He is God and on the last page of the book you so despise guess what? He wins! You are on a path strait to hell. — Julie Fincham, North Port, Florida
The bible: Who is forcing you to practice any type of religion ,you must believe you came from a monkey lie Obama right.? you have no power whatsoever to lengthen your stupid life or create anything as god can you can’t turn the day into night or stop a hurricane let alone create one. I’d like to meet you in person bitch. — Samuel Ruiz, San angelo, Texas
U.S. Air Force Academy: If we erase all religion, then isn’t atheism the de facto religion? So in fact, you are supporting the idea of a state sponsored religion. How the communists and fascist would love your organization. — Mark Lutz, Sanford, S.C.
Pope in Green Bay: The mayor has every right to invite whom he pleases, just as the ludicrous president obama does. You want some atheist to visit the mayor? Set it up you imbeciles. — David Woehning