Freethought Today · Vol. 24 No. 2 March 2007

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Michelle Goldberg's Speech

The Rise of Christian Nationalism: Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg
Photo by Brent Nicastro

The erosions in state/church separation and legitimization of religious supremacism would have been unthinkable even six years ago.

By Michelle Goldberg

Thank you so much for having me here. I'm going to start by telling you something that actually happened to me two days ago. I was in New York doing a kind of dialogue, at an event with a woman who's the civil rights director of the Anti-Defamation League. We were talking about what I'm going to be talking about this afternoon, about this kind of transformation in the way our government works and some of the attacks on First Amendment protections that a lot of us grew up taking for granted. But there's also a cultural element that goes beyond legal or political remedies, that is also very troubling, such as the growth of a very coercive proselytization among classmates in public schools, and among coworkers in the workplace.

Deborah, the woman from the Anti-Defamation League, was talking about how, in many workplaces now, there are prayer groups, and they're obviously not compulsory, but there is an element of understanding that if you want to get ahead, if you want to be part of a team, you join in.

After the presentation, a woman came up to me and said, "My daughter works in a place like that, where everybody is in a prayer group, and if you want to be on the good side of the supervisors, you take part, too."

I said, "That's really terrible," and she said, "Yeah. It's the Justice Department." That's a true story.

My book is called Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, so I'm going to just say a little bit about what I mean by Christian nationalism, some of the ideas that have undergirded it, and how it's really changed the way our government works--often in a way that seems subtle, but is cumulatively quite profound.

I separate Christian nationalism from evangelical Christianity or even fundamentalist Christianity. Somewhere between 30-40% of Americans are evangelicals, and I'm actually not talking about all of them when I talk about Christian nationalism. Hardcore Christian nationalists are probably about 10-15% of the population, which then find sympathy for their views among a broader Christian right and the broader Republican party.

When I talk about Christian nationalism, I'm talking about a political ideology masquerading as a faith. Christian nationalism basically holds that America was founded as a Christian nation, that the founders never intended to separate church and state, and that church/state separation is a lie and a fraud perpetrated by secularists in the last 100 years, which has to be undone so America can reclaim its "former glory." This is a movement that seeks to Christianize all the institutions of American life, from the schools to the judiciary to the federal government, the presidency, the Congress, etc.

It won't come as a surprise to anyone in this room when I say that one of the most marked aspects of the march of the Christian right just in the last few years has been the mainstreaming of ideas that were once really quite marginal. None of the ideas that I talk about in Kingdom Coming is new. It's just that these ideas used to be confined to a fringe that was acknowledged to not have a major role in setting up American policy, and that's no longer the case.

There is a movement I would almost compare to the neo-conservatives in that it's very, very small, but has provided a lot of the kind of intellectual infrastructure for some of the broader Christian right takeovers of various institutions. It's called Christian reconstructionism. Christian reconstructionism is a straight-up, full-on theocratic ideology. It was founded by a guy named R.J. Rushdoony in the '70s, and was spread by his estranged son-in-law.

Christian reconstructionism holds that the civil law of the United States needs to be replaced essentially with the biblical law in the book of Leviticus. It would institute the death penalty for homosexuals, women who are unchaste before marriage, disobedient children. It's a very radical ideology even by the standards of the radical Christian right. Although it's not a popular movement even within the Christian right, the political philosophy that has developed has had repercussions beyond its ranks. The political philosophy of Christian reconstructionism is something called dominionism, which basically holds that God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth in the book of Genesis. That dominion was forfeited when they sinned and were expelled from the garden, but Jesus Christ, by dying for humankind's sins, has once again given dominion to Christians. Dominionism is essentially the philosophy that Christians have the right to rule, and need to take over the institutions of society and Christianize them from the ground up, or as one prominent dominion theologian says, to smooth the transition to Christian rule.

This is an ideology that has been very much at play in the development of the modern Christian right, which goes in several stages. Probably many of you know that it was in 1979 when three veterans of the Goldwater campaign decided that they saw an opportunity to peel off conservative blue-collar voters from the Democratic party by appealing to their disillusionment with the counterculture. So they recruited a fairly obscure Baptist preacher named Jerry Falwell to start the Moral Majority. The Moral Majority was a centralized national organization. They did rallies, they did mailings.

The next stage in the Christian right's evolution came ten years later, when out of the ashes of Pat Robertson's failed presidential campaign, he built the Christian Coalition. The Christian Coalition was a very different kind of organization, because it was grassroots. It set about recapturing and taking over the Republican party, precinct by precinct, school board by school board, town council by town council. The Christian Coalition was the main game on the Christian right for another ten years. Now the Christian Coalition is just a pitiful shell of its former self. It recently lost its tax-exempt status because of its partisan politicking; it has just a fraction of its former membership and former funding.

But the movement has continued to expand. Although there's obviously national centers of powers like Focus on the Family and James Dobson and the Family Research Council, there are also state affiliates. There's the Ohio Restoration Project, which seeks to network together fundamentalists and evangelicals and rightwing churches in Ohio for political action. Then there's the Texas Patriot Pastors Network, and the Patriot Pastors in Pennsylvania.

You're seeing increasingly the next generation of leadership of the religious right based at the state level and networked together in almost concentric circles. In a certain way, this makes it more powerful because there's no one indispensible leader of this movement. It's much more diffused and much harder to track.

I'm going to talk a little bit about the way this movement has worked in politics and then about the way that it's affected our national life. I was in Ohio in 2004 in the months before the election. One of the leaders in the movement in Ohio is a guy named Rod Parsley, who runs a megachurch of about 10,000 people outside of Columbus. Rod Parsley's slogan is "lock and load."

He was able to use Issue 1, which was the antigay marriage amendment in Ohio, to essentially turn his church and other sympathetic churches into a kind of adjunct of the Republican Party. Churches are technically not allowed to campaign for presidential candidates. They can't campaign for the GOP, but they can campaign for an obstensibly nonpartisan issue like opposition to gay marriage.

So, World Harvest Church moved the "get out the vote" machinery, the phone banking, into its walls. It had the petition drives, the voter guides and everything right inside its doors. As you walk into church, as I did, first you see just seas of people like at a rock concert, with strobe lights and people dancing in the aisles, and Rod Parsley saying, "Don't stop, don't stop," people working themselves up into this kind of ecstatic frenzy. Then Rob Parsley says, "This election isn't about two opponents, this is lightness and darkness. You need to form a mighty army and march on the voting booth and. . . ."

There were a lot of people in Ohio who saw just the Kerry people on the streets, they saw MoveOn, they saw Americans coming together. They didn't see any of Bush's people on the streets. When you walked through the neighborhoods, they just weren't there knocking on doors and hanging up those flyers you put on the doorknobs. You didn't see them, because it was all going on in these megachurches. It's pretty clear that George Bush could not have won Ohio without the help of people like Rod Parsley, Russell Johnson and some of the other people who led the Christian political drive in Ohio.

One of Parsley's colleagues, Rick Scarborough of Texas, actually has a book called In Defense of Mixing Church and State, and in it he talks about separation of church and state as being a lie perpetrated by Satan and fostered by the courts. I think it's a correct belief that the courts are the last vestige of protection for the separation of church and state in this country, so the idea is to take over the courts, and until they can do that, to weaken them.

What I've seen in the last few years are erosions in church/state separation, and legitimization of religious supremacism that would have been unthinkable even six years ago. This is sometimes quite shocking to the people who realize that our country has changed in ways that they hadn't imagined possible, and that all of a sudden, they have no recourse.

Christian nationalism has created a kind of parallel reality. While, say, the mainstream has the American Bar Association, Christian nationalism has the Federalist Society. It has its version of the ACLU, and the Alliance Defense Fund and Liberty Legal. It has its own universities. It has its own medical institutions, such as the Medical Institute for Sexual Health--which exists to promote the idea that abstinence education is the best way to prevent teenage pregnancies and STDs, and which claims that condoms promote promiscuity. It has the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design and masquerades as a legitimate scientific organization.

In 2007, you're going to see the opening of a state-of-the-art creation science museum outside of Cincinnati, where I went recently. As you walk in, it looks very much like the kind of museums that maybe you went to in field trips when you were a kid. There's a planetarium where you can look at the heavens and learn how starlight took 6,000 years to reach the earth, because that's how old the universe is! There is this fantastic diorama of animatronic dinosaurs and small children playing together in a rainforest!

All of this is very funny until you start seeing this parallel reality intruding on what we used to just call reality. It's important to note that the people behind this movement are not stupid, and they know what they're doing. They very much had an idea from the beginning of undermining the Enlightenment. What they're opposed to is not just the teaching of evolution, not just attempts to keep the Ten Commandments out of courthouses. What they're fundamentally opposed to is the idea that you can understand reality or make decisions about how to operate in a world without reference to divine revelation.

I want to read something from a book called The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action. This book was written by George Grant, who used to be the executive director of Coral Ridge Ministries, which is now run by a guy named D. James Kennedy. It's the third largest televangelist operation in the country. D. James Kennedy has an office on Capitol Hill called the Center for Christian Statesmanship, where he evangelizes to members of Congress and aides on the Hill, and tries to bring these principles into all areas of lawmaking. He holds something every year called the Reclaiming America For Christ Conference, where you'll see politicians, in addition to various leaders of the religious right, speaking. This year's speaker was Mike Huckabee from Arkansas, who's seriously talked about as a GOP presidential candidate in 2008.

George Grant has said: "Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ, to have dominion in civil structures just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion we are after, not just a voice. It is dominion we are after, not just influence. It is dominion we are after, not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest, that's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel, and we must never settle for anything less.

"Thus Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land, of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the kingdom of Christ."

Now there's a lot of things standing in their way, such as the Enlightenment foundation of our government, the very idea that we make policies according to evidence and science and empirical reality, rather than according to the words of holy books. Dominionists are very clear that they believe that the reality contained in the bible is superior to any reality that you can ascertain on your own through any amount of investigation. Part of the goal of strategies like intelligent design has been not just to introduce creationism and Christianity into the classroom, although that's a part of it, but it's also been to weaken the whole foundation of our thought. It's pretty obvious to everyone in this room that one of the hallmarks of the last few years has been the erosion of reality as a force in our national life.

I'd like to read something from the Discovery Institute, which as you probably know is the scientific headquarters of the "intelligent design" movement. One of the funders is Howard Ahmanson, who, although he's lately distanced himself from some of the harsher precepts of reconstructionism, is someone very close to it. The Discovery Institute a few years ago had a funding proposal that got leaked online and everybody got to read it. You can look it up yourself if you want. It's called the Wedge Strategy.

The Wedge Strategy says:

"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces, and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality infected virtually every area of our culture from politics and economics to literature and art."

What's under attack again is this materialistic conception of reality, the idea of evidence and science and study as being the foundation for the way our culture and our politics should work. I'm going to give you a couple of examples of how this is changing our politics, in ways that might actually affect your own life, and has affected the lives of people who wouldn't have thought this movement was quite so powerful.

The faith-based initiative has gotten very little attention compared to its impact on changing the rules of the game, about how things work in this country. Under the faith-based initiative, billions--that's with a B--billions of dollars have been transferred from secular social services to religious social services. One of the most important underpinnings is the assumption that religious institutions can do a good job of healing the sick or providing job training. In fact, they have done a good job in the past. It's not a new thing for religious groups to get public money. The Salvation Army has gotten public money for years, as has Catholic Charities, Lutheran Family and Children's Services, and Jewish Family Services. Whether or not you think that that's a good or a bad thing--and I have a feeling there are people in this room who probably wish it wasn't so--it hasn't resulted in the kind of abuses that we've seen in the last few years, for a couple of reasons. This is primarily because this administration has loosened the rules on how much you can proselytize and who can get money and what kind of capabilities and infrastructure you need to have. But more, or equally as, important, the administration has suspended the civil rights protections that used to force religious groups getting government money to abide by civil rights law and to not discriminate in hiring. Now you can have a fully government-funded job, say, a job-training position or as a drug-treatment counselor, and you can put an ad in the paper and say: "Help wanted, Christians only." That's happening.

A lot of these faith-based services, although not all, are marked by their contempt for evidence, contempt for any kind of measurement of effectiveness. So I'm going to skip forward a minute.

Probably some of you live in places where, instead of comprehensive sex education, your public schools have abstinence-only classes, using books that draw on the collective works of James Dobson, that are taught by people who work in antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers. Such people have gotten millions of dollars to do abstinence education in the public schools. I talk to people all the time who thought that they were pretty politically attuned, and then when they look into it, are shocked to find it actually happening in their own kids' public schools.

There's a woman named Pam Stenzel, who was a speaker a few years ago at Reclaiming America For Christ, D. James Kennedy's church, who's been at the forefront of the abstinence-only movement. She was somebody that Bush put on a 12-person panel at the Department of Health and Human Services, overseeing how abstinence guidelines should be instituted. She's been to the White House at Bush's behest, she's spoken at the United Nations. She's somebody who's really shaped policy. Again, there's this kind of alternative reality. Instead of finding somebody to shape policy at the Department of Health and Human Services from one of the major medical schools, you take somebody who's known within the Christian nationalist movement.

Speaking at Reclaiming America For Christ, Pam Stenzel was talking about this conversation that she'd had with somebody on a plane. A guy sitting next to her found out she did abstinence education and asked something like, "Does that really work? I bet you're never going to be able to get kids to stop having sex, which nobody has ever been able to do in the history of humankind."

And she said, "What he's asking is: Does it work? You know what? Doesn't matter. Because my job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public school's job should not be to keep teens from having sex." (I would say about that much, we actually agree.) Then she said, "Our job should be to tell kids the truth."

This is what Pam Stenzel, who makes policy for the way some of your kids are being taught, sees as the truth:

"People of God, can I beg you to commit yourself to truth, not what works. To truth, I don't care if it works, because at the end of the day, I'm not answering to you, I'm answering to God."

Later, she added, "Let me tell you something, people of God, that is radical and I can only say it here. AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at 20 is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fists in the face of a holy God and sin without consequences is the enemy. I will not teach my child that they can sin safely."

Of course, Pam Stenzel is not just teaching her child. Actually, this isn't even about just America's children any more. As Annie Laurie said, I just came back from Ethiopia. American-style abstinence education is being spread all over the world, thanks to some changes in the way we do foreign aid to promote PEPFAR. The President's Emergency Plan on AIDS Relief specifies that two-thirds of all of the money allocated for the prevention of sexual transmission of HIV around the world now goes to abstinence programs.

Does it work? No! Of course, it doesn't work. And nobody thinks it works. But it's flowing into the coffers of people like Pam Stenzel, and like Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse. Franklin Graham is the much more radical son of Billy Graham. Pat Robertson . . . you know, every time Pat Robertson says something ridiculous, people rush to talk about how he's been marginalized. In a certain way, he has been marginalized. He's no longer nearly as powerful as, say, James Dobson, or even some of these emerging leaders. But Pat Robertson did get 14 million of your tax dollars to provide faith-based social services here and abroad.

So this is one change. Bringing people to Christ has become, in many ways, a policy goal of the United States government. When I was researching this book, I went to a faith-based drug treatment, where you sit around, you choose a bible passage, you meditate on it, the idea being that conversion will somehow heal you of your addictions. Bush has started a faith-based chapter of the Office of Emergency Management, so there will soon be a faith-based response to the next Katrina!

This affects you, even if you're never going to need any of these government services. That's because you can now be denied a job for not being a Christian. You can now be hounded by your boss in a federally-funded job to reveal your religion, to give them the name and phone number of your pastors.

I'm just going to talk quickly about what happened at the Salvation Army in New York. It's important because if it can happen in New York, it can happen almost anywhere. The Salvation Army in New York gets $50 million a year to do group homes, drug treatment, foster care placement, adoptions, a whole range of things. Until recently, the social services division was separate from the evangelical mission of the Salvation Army. But then Bush gave them permission to merge the two, and so a couple of years ago, the Salvation Army--which gives people who are in its ranks military titles--decided to send in a guy named Col. Kelly to christianize the New York social services division. The first thing he did was start going around trying to find out who was on their team. There was a woman in human resources named Margaret Geissman. He went to her boss and he said, "Margaret Geissman, is that Jewish? It sounds Jewish." And it wasn't. Margaret Geissman is Catholic. So then he thought that Margaret Geissman might be an ally, so he went to her and he said, "I want to know who are the nonChristians and who are the homosexuals in this organization."

She refused to tell him. She's a really conservative lady, but also a really decent lady and knew that this was ridiculous, and she thought it was illegal. This kind of thing used to be illegal, but it's not now. Or it's unclear now.

At about the same time, he went to Anne Lown, who is Jewish, who had been there for 24 years. At the time, she was heading the Department of Children's Services. She had hundreds of people under her. He gave her a form, and said, "Fill out this form. Have everyone under you fill out the form." It asked you to list your church, your pastor, all the churches you've attended in the last ten years, and your pastor's phone number so that they could check your fitness to work with children.

She refused to do this. She refused to have anyone under her do this. Eventually, they just went around her. They got everyone under her to fill out the form. She hung on for a while, but after months and months of it becoming an increasingly hostile place, finally left. When she left, she started looking for another job. But the thing is, almost everywhere in New York, almost all the social services provision in New York is done by faith-based organizations, so she ended up getting a job with Catholic Charities. She's hoping this doesn't happen again, but there's not a lot of alternatives for somebody who does what she does.

So meanwhile, Anne Lown and Margaret Geissman and about 15 other people are suing the Salvation Army. The Justice Department, of course, intervened on the Salvation Army's behalf, not disputing any of the facts of the case, but just saying that the Salvation Army has a right to behave this way. The administration calls it "religious freedom in hiring rights," which is one of these fantastically Orwellian phrases that now means the freedom not to hire people of the wrong religion. I talked to Anne Lown and it's astonishing to her that this is happening. It was in the papers, but it was only on page A11 of The New York Times.

So America is not the same place it was when most of the people in this room were growing up, when I was growing up. Things that used to be impossible have suddenly become possible, and it hasn't really made a ripple. So what I try to get across in my book is not that we're on the verge of theocracy; I don't believe we are. I've been in countries that are theocracies. We still, thankfully, have quite a ways to go. But you don't just start worrying when you wake up one day and find yourself in a theocracy. There is a huge distance between a liberal democracy with freedom, with the First Amendment, and, say, a country like Iran. And even when we've come this far, I think it's time to start worrying.

Thank you very much.

Question about a secularist running a campaign before voters who are anti-First Amendment.

Part of the problem is the courts can go so far, but when the population no longer believes in the kind of fundamental values of the First Amendment, of religious freedom, of rationality, then how do you appeal to that population? How do you turn a campaign into an effort to convert people back to the values of the founders, or at least the best of the founders? I'm not sure.

In the past 30 years, the religious right has built institutions to help people like the one who's running against your friend, so that if you enter a race like that, you'll have massive institutional support, you'll have people coming in and counseling you, you'll have people helping you, telling you to bury the crazy stuff on your website, telling you to talk about intelligent design instead of creationism. Our side just doesn't have that kind of electoral infrastructure. It doesn't have people providing that kind of support to the grassroots. That's something for the future that's not going to help your friend right now.

I think it's a good idea to talk about some of the specific ways in which these very radical candidates are opposed to some of the fundamental values of this country, and to make clear to people that you're not talking about a war on religion, you're not talking about a war on Christianity, which is inevitably how these things get spun, but that you're talking about defending religious freedom, including freedom for your fundamentalist neighbors.

You can only do so much when people are inculcated into an alternative reality, when people no longer believe that America was ever meant to be a secular nation, when people have been so immersed in what is really an alternate world. It can be really, really difficult to break through that.

I know of some people who've been in similar situations, like the people in Dover, Penn., who said how much they wish there was a network for people who face these kinds of challenges in their community, to swap information. So hopefully someday there will be some mechanism for them to be able to help each other.

Question about the number of fundamentalists in America versus seculars.

There's a pollster named George Barna, a Christian pollster, but a very good one about religion. He defines born-again according to a set of very narrow criteria. He'll say something like 5-8% is born-again, and he has a much broader umbrella for evangelical. Cumulatively, it's between 30-40%.

The two fastest-growing segments of religion in America today are evangelicals and those who say they have no religion. So you're seeing this increasing polarization, and the two feed on each other, because it's the declining prestige of Christianity that feeds some of the anxiety that leads to this ascendant political right, and that makes Christians receptive to messages that they're somehow under attack.

Part of the reason seculars are not as organized is just because where do atheists go every Sunday? Is there a place that atheists get together every week, where they can hear a message, where they can get marching orders? At one point, when I was reporting this book, I would listen in on a conference call Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council had every month, where he gave pastors their political marching orders: "You need to tell your congregants about this issue, you need to tell them to write to their senators about X, Y, and Z." There is no kind of social infrastructure on the other side.

Question about legality of churches practicing hiring discrimination.

Civil rights law has an exemption for religious groups. That's not a problem in and of itself. Churches can prefer to hire Christians, mosques can prefer to hire Muslims. Obviously you're not going to hire a devout evangelical to work for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Most people don't have a problem with that. What's changed is that when the original 1964 Civil Rights Law was passed, there was an executive order saying that you can't discriminate in public hiring. Bush by executive order rescinded that, so that now you can get public money but still retain special hiring privileges that have been afforded to private religious groups.

I think there's a huge opportunity at the state level to try to pass laws counteracting this. There's nothing to stop anyone from trying to explicitly pass a law saying no public money can go where there is hiring discrimination, because a lot of this money is channeled through the states. Such laws would have the kind of salutory effect not just of putting a stop to this discrimination, but of raising the issue in the public mind, and of forcing the other side to say why they should be able to discriminate on the public dime.

Michelle Goldberg is a contributing writer for, reporting on both sides of America's ever-seething culture war. She earned her Masters degree in journalism at UC-Berkeley. After a year of traveling and reporting in India and East Asia, Goldberg moved to New York City and began work at She has covered all aspects of the ascendant political right. Goldberg has been an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at New York University. She has also been a columnist for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and for Shift Magazine. Her work has appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, The New York Observer, The UK Guardian, The New Republic online, The Utne Reader, Newsday and other newspapers nationwide. Her book is Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (2006).

FFRF Co-Presidents


DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio and Freethought Matters (TV). A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (1992) are published by FFRF. Other books include Godless (Ulysses Press, 2008), The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God (Pitchstone Publishing, 2011), Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning, Pitchstone Press (2015), GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (Sterling Publications, 2016), and Free Will Explained: How Science and Philosophy Converge to Create a Beautiful Illusion. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in FFRF’s musical CDs, "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," "Beware of Dogma,” and “Adrift on a Star." He joined FFRF's staff in 1987, serving as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004, speaks widely and has engaged in more than 100 debates about religion.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, a third-generation freethinker, co-founded FFRF with her mother Anne Gaylor as a college student in 1976. She served as editor of Freethought Today, FFRF’s newspaper, from 1985 to 2009. Her book, Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published by FFRF in 1981, is in its 4th printing. In 1988, FFRF published Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 anthology, Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters,’ is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. A 1980 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Journalism School, she was an award-winning student reporter and recipient of the Ken Purdy scholarship. After graduation, she founded, edited and published the Feminist Connection, a monthly advocacy newspaper, from 1980–1985. She first joined the FFRF staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. In the late 1970s, her student protest ended commencement prayers at the UW-Madison. She has been plaintiff in or overseen many state/church lawsuits and actions by FFRF. Dan and Annie Laurie have appeared on a variety of TV news shows, including “Oprah,” “O’Reilly,” “Good Morning America,” Univision, CNN and FOX news segments, CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight.

Photo: Ingrid Laas

See Dan's bio »
See Dan's online writings »

See Annie Laurie's bio »
See Annie Laurie's online writings »

FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

ANNE NICOL GAYLOR was a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and worked as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she did substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.

Slideshow of Anne Gaylor & FFRF activism

FFRF Legal

REBECCA S. MARKERT is the Legal Director for FFRF. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island, and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008 as the first in-house staff attorney. Prior to joining FFRF, she worked for former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold both in his legislative office in Washington, D.C., and in his 2004 campaign office.

She handles a First Amendment caseload that includes matters involving religion in the public schools, religious symbols on public property, and electioneering by churches. She has served as co-counsel in federal lawsuits across the country and routinely assists FFRF’s cooperating attorneys in litigation. She’s drafted amicus briefs filed in many federal appellate courts including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rebecca is admitted to practice in Wisconsin, and before the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. District Courts for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin, and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Rebecca is also a member of the Western District of Wisconsin Bar Association, Dane County Bar Association and the James E. Doyle American Inn of Court. She also serves as the President of the Legal Association for Women in Madison, Wisconsin.

Photo by Chris Line. 

PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's Senior Litigation Counsel, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2005). He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in 2010.

Patrick oversees litigation for FFRF, including important First Amendment cases involving religion in schools, religious displays, and free speech violations. Patrick is admitted to practice in Wisconsin, Minnesota, the U.S. Supreme Court, and many federal district and circuit courts around the country.

Patrick has served as the Chair of the Civil Rights & Liberties Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin (2020). He has helped plan and present educational programs for lawyers on civil rights issues.

Photo by Chris Line. 

ANDREW L. SEIDEL is a constitutional attorney, the Director of Strategic Response at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and an author. Andrew graduated cum laude from Tulane University ('04) with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School ('09), where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a perfect GPA ('11) and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award.

His first book The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American hits shelves in May 2019. Renowned constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has described it as "a beautifully written book" that "explodes a frequently expressed myth: that the United States was created as a Christian nation." Publisher's Weekly said that Andrew "provides a fervent takedown of Christian Nationalism in his furious debut. ... his well-conceived arguments will spark conversations for those willing to listen." Susan Jacoby (Freethinkers; The Age of American Unreason; and The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought) wrote the foreword and Dan Barker penned a preface. When not fighting for the First Amendment, Andrew writes for ThinkProgress, Religion News Service, Rewire News and elsewhere. Andrew joined FFRF as a constitutional consultant on Halloween, 2011.

Photo by Chris Line. 


ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.

Photo by Chris Line. 

MARK DANN joined Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) on May 20, 2019, as our first full-time director of governmental affairs. Dann previously worked as the director of governmental affairs for the Secular Coalition for America (SCA). He has also served as the federal affairs director at Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life advocacy group, and as a democracy development consultant with the National Democratic Institute in Moldova and Iraq. And he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Crimea before it was invaded by Russia.

Mark will help raise the national profile of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Washington, D.C., where he is based.

Mark lives in Washington, DC with his husband Sultan Shakir. They have a Chihuahua/Jack Russell Terrier who as a finalist in this year’s Running of the Chihuahua's in DC.

SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.

Photo by Chris Line. 

RYAN JAYNE received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Honors College in 2007. After graduating, Ryan taught piano and chess lessons while working as a financial advisor until 2012, when he began law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. In law school he focused on intellectual property and animal law, serving as an associate editor for the Animal Law Review at Lewis & Clark and co-founding the Pacific Northwest’s first Secular Legal Society. Ryan graduated cum laude in 2015, began working with FFRF in January of 2015, and became a Diane Uhl Legal Fellow in September, 2015, specializing in faith-based government funding. Ryan became an FFRF staff attorney in September, 2017.

Photo by Chris Line. 

MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF in some capacity since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a staff attorney.

Photo by Chris Line. 

CHRISTOPHER LINE received his B.S. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2012. He began working for FFRF in 2015 as a legal intern while attending law school at the University of Wisconsin. Shortly after receiving his Juris Doctor in 2017, Chris began working full-time for FFRF as a Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow. He became an FFRF staff attorney in September 2019. He is an accomplished photographer whose work has appeared in The Humanist magazine, the Progressive, and FFRF’s own Freethought Today. His work can even be found on display in Freethought Hall.

Photo by Chris Line. 

GRETA MARTENS graduated from Hamline University with a B.A. in history and a minor in Legal Studies in 2018. After graduating she moved to Madison and worked as an archivist at a pharmaceutical company. She has been a legal assistant since November 2019. Outside of work, she enjoys reading books and comics, hiking, and going to the farmer’s market.

JOSEPH MCDONALD joins FFRF as the Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow after graduating with with Juris Doctor and Master of Public Health from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2020). Prior to joining FFRF, he was a public school teacher and school principal from 2014-2016. Upon returning for graduate school, he acted as a health policy analyst for the Population Health Institute from 2016-2018. Both during and after law school, he taught Public Education and Law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Education Leadership and Policy Analysis. Joseph is thrilled to join the FFRF team and enforce separation of church and state and educate the public.

STEPHANIE DYER joined FFRF as the Intake Legal Assistant in November 2020. Stephanie graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in August 2020 with a B.A. in political science and legal studies, and a certificate in criminal justice. She is a Madison native, growing up on the Northside. Outside of work, she likes to travel and spend time outdoors hiking and kayaking.

BARBARA ALVAREZ is FFRF’s first Anne Nicol Gaylor Reproductive Rights Intern, a program set up to memorialize FFRF’s principal founder, who was an early abortion rights activist and author of the book Abortion is a Blessing. She is from Madison, Wis., and attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working on a Ph.D. in library and information sciences with a minor in gender and women’s studies. Alvarez was a major winner in last year’s FFRF essay competition for graduate students, writing about the bible’s role in the abortion battle.

CHARIS HOARD, FFRF's first governmental affairs intern (2021 spring semester). graduated from Bowling Green State University with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Psychology & Law in August 2020, and is currently pursuing her Master of Public Administration degree at Bowling Green State University.

FFRF Editorial Staff

PJ SLINGER is editor of Freethought Today. A Green Bay native, he has a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked as a sports reporter, news reporter, copy editor, web editor and photo editor in newspapers in Marshall (Minn.), Mankato (Minn.) and Madison (Wis). Prior to coming to FFRF in 2015, he worked for 15 years at The Capital Times in Madison. He has a wife and three kids.

Photo by Chris Line. 

AMITABH PAL is the Communications Director of FFRF. Prior to joining in February 2016, he was the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine for more than a decade. He was also the editor of the Progressive Media Project, an affiliate of The Progressive that sends out op-eds through the Tribune Wire Service to hundreds of newspapers in the United States and other countries. Pal has appeared on C-SPAN and BBC and television and radio stations all over the United States and abroad. His articles have been published in school and college textbooks in the United States and Australia. Pal teaches a course at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. He has a Master's in Journalism from the University of North Carolina and a Master's in Political Science from North Carolina State University.

Photo by Chris Line. 

ROGER DALEIDEN is the Graphic Designer at the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He grew up in Wausau, Wis.  He has been living in Madison since 1987. He graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stout with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1986 (Fine Art), and the received his Master of Fine Art degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1991. Roger has taught Art and Design courses for UW-Madison and also for Madison College. He has worked as a Graphic Designer for catalog companies, most recently Full Compass Systems, and as well as for newspapers, including The Capital Times. Some of his other interests include bicycling through our beautiful Southern Wisconsin landscapes, paddling down the lower Wisconsin River, sailing on our lakes and skiing at the local ski areas.

Photo by Chris Line. 

JAKE SWENSON started as FFRF’s first graphic designer in 2015. He was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated with a degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. He enjoys music, cycling, photography, traveling, and coffee.

Photo by Chris Line. 

LAURYN SEERING is the Communications Manager and supports a wide range of communications functions, including: website content curation, distributing materials to members and media, and managing FFRF's social media platforms. Lauryn graduated from the UW-Stout with a B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication & International Studies with a minor in Journalism. She enjoys learning new languages, reading, biking, and creating art at coffee shops.

Photo by Chris Line. 

BILL DUNN is the editor emeritus of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.

BAILEY NACHREINER-MACKESEY is the Editorial Assistant at FFRF. Born and bred right here in Madison, she graduated from UW-Madison in 2017 with majors in Journalism and Mass Communication and Political Science and a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies. Outside of FFRF, she can be found volunteering for Madison’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), catching up on her ever-growing stack of feminist reads, or slingin’ top notch espresso drinks as a specialty coffee barista.

Photo by Chris Line. 

FFRF Administrative Staff

LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She has 25 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, both as a staff member and volunteer leader, including having served as board president of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives and the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin. She has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota. Lisa is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.

Photo by Chris Line. 

JACKIE DOUGLAS is the office manager at the Foundation. She graduated in 2002 from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Human Development and Family Services. Jackie is happily married, owns a home on the east side of Madison, and has a black cat named Lucky.

Photo by Chris Line. 

ELEANOR MCENTEE has over a decade of experience as a nonprofit bookkeeper and is very dedicated to nonprofit organizations.  In her free time, she journals, spends time with her cats Steven and MacNcheez, and rides her Harley all over Wisconsin and more!

Photo by Chris Line. 

LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF.  She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin.  She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years.  Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself.  Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.

Photo by Chris Line. 

KRISTINA DALEIDEN is FFRF's Programs Manager. She a Wisconsin native and life-long freethinker, and received her B.A. in Creative Writing from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and a Post-Baccalaureate certificate in Paralegal Studies from Madison College in 2010. She has worked for law firms focused on employment and labor law, and worked as an office coordinator at a local small business prior to joining FFRF. Kristina is an avid follower of politics and enjoys long protest marches on the square, historical fiction and post-modern poetry. Her hobbies include writing to her representatives, yoga, badgering her family and trying to persuade her cats to get off the kitchen counters.

Photo by Chris Line. 

ASTORIA GOLDSBY is the Store Manager and in charge of processing orders. She is a Madison native who attended Madison Area Technical Collage (MATC). In 2006 she attained a Associate's Degree in Liberal Arts. Astoria joined FFRF in 2019, and has 11+ years in customer service. She loves spending time with her partner and dog, playing board games, and wine tasting. 

Photo by Chris Line. 

FFRF Specialty Staff

BRUCE A. JOHNSON has been a broadcasting professional for over 35 years. He has worked in Russia, Africa, Europe, Mexico and all across the USA.  Projects he has photographed, edited and/or composed music for have been awarded many Wisconsin Broadcasters, Milwaukee Press Club and both regional and national Emmy Awards. He is a 30-year resident of the East Side of Madison, and is married with two daughters.

Photo by Chris Line. 

JAMES PHETTEPLACE is the Director of IT for FFRF. Prior to joining in January 2018, James was the Director of IT for Willy Street Co-op for more than a decade, and served as a Project Manager for major expansion efforts. He was also an information specialist, programmer and consultant for Community Care Systems, Inc. from 1995 to 2003. James is also a Qualified Administrator of the IDI (Intercultural Developmental Inventory), and is dedicated to promoting inclusion, diversity and equity in the workplace. James is a poet and musician and has performed in the Madison area for over 20 years.

Photo by Chris Line. 

Executive Board of Directors

View DAN BARKER's profile above. 

MIKE CERMAK (Director) lives in rural Pennsylvania with his family and owns several small businesses. He first joined FFRF while in college, after having read “Losing Faith in Faith,” and is passionate about state-church separation. Mike is a private pilot, electric car owner and “evangelist,” and enjoys technology of all kinds.

View ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR's profile above. 

Photo by Chris Line. 

STEPHEN HIRTLE (Chair) is a professor in the School of Computing and Information at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Pittsburgh Freethought Community, blogger with the Steel City Skeptics, faculty liaison for the Secular Alliance at Pitt and hosted a CFI Institute on “Secularism on Campus.” He has been a guest on Freethought Radio and has assisted FFRF in fighting a nativity display at the Ellwood City Municipal Building, a Ten Commandments monument outside Valley High School in New Kensington, and the Year of the Bible resolution passed by the Pennsylvania House.

TODD PEISSIG (Director) grew up in central Wisconsin and still lives there today. He attended the University of Wisconsin Pharmacy School, graduating with a B.S. in Pharmacy in 1989. He has worked as a retail community pharmacist with the Kmart Corporation for 27 years and is currently the pharmacy manager overseeing 5 technicians. Traveling extensively both domestically and worldwide is a great passion of his, as is fighting the battle of religious overreach in our country. He also is an activist fighting for LGBT rights. Todd volunteers a full day for FFRF every six-eight weeks, as well as at FFRF conventions.

JIM ZERWICK (Director) attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, joined the Navy in 1968, studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute, and served as a communications tech in the Mediterranean area until late 1971. After discharge, he and a buddy toured Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. He earned a Master’s in Library Science at UW-Madison, worked for several years at the Michigan State University Science Library, and became the engineering librarian at the University of Virginia. There he became hooked on flying ultralight aircraft. Returning to Wisconsin, he spent the following 29 years working as a property manager and assisting his parents as they approached the end of their lives. His mother, Rose Zerwick, who died as a “happy heathen” at 95 in 2013, was a second-generation atheist. Among Jim’s claims to fame is being part of the backup chorus singing Dan Barker’s “The Stay Away Pope Polka” for FFRF. He has been on the Board, initially as treasurer and now as a director at large, for 10 years. He is married to a retired high school teacher who has two grown children and a granddaughter. His three siblings and their spouses “all share a healthy skepticism of religion.”

STEFANIE MORITZ (Secretary) retired from a career in public libraries in 2003.  She holds a B.A. in Fine Arts and a M.A.L.S. in Library Science.  A former resident of Illinois and Arizona, she and her husband now reside in downtown Madison, Wis. where they enjoy the best farmer's market in the country, close proximity to UW-Madison campus activities, and a plethora of restaurants and arts events.  In addition to her volunteer work with FFRF she is the Land Inquiries Specialist for the Wisconsin office of The Nature Conservancy, and serves as an English tutor to recent refugees through a Madison-based organization, Open Doors for Refugees.  Her "conversion" to freethinker after many years as a lapsed Catholic has been liberating and she is proud to be associated with FFRF's battle to maintain separation of church and state.

CHERYL KOLBE (Director) retired from Portland Community College in 2004 as Student Systems Support Manager where she was responsible for implementing the software for Enrollment Services. She is passionate about the mission of FFRF and in 2013 she started a local chapter in Portland, Oregon and continues as chapter President.  She is a volunteer naturalist for Nature Conservancy and takes advantage of frequent opportunities to usher for performances in Portland. In her free time, she is an avid hiker, cross-country skier, and kayaker. Her two daughters and two granddaughters are a constant source of pleasure.

SUE KOCHER is President and a founding member of Triangle Freethought Society in North Carolina. She works at a large software company by day, and she occupies her off-hours with passions which include: vegetable gardening, cooking, working as a professional dog trainer, and of course, activism. Sue believes that the separation of church and state is essential for a true democracy, and that the replacement of supernatural beliefs with reason is essential for the survival of Homo sapiens. And for being worthy of that name.

STEVE SALEMSON (Treasurer) worked in scholarly publishing for nearly two decades, first as business manager of the Duke University Press and then as associate director of the University of Wisconsin Press. In previous lives, he was a professional musician and a French translator and interpreter. He has an M.A. in Liberal Studies from Duke University and a B.A. in Comparative Linguistics from Queens College in New York, and degrees in French horn and music pedagogy from the École Normale de Musique de Paris. He and his wife, translator Joan Wallace, love living in Madison. Steve enjoys biking, international folkdancing, doing crossword puzzles, and being a grandfather. In addition to serving on the board of the FFRF, he sits on the boards of the Midwest Folk Dance Association and the National Mustard Museum, and thus is involved with both nonprofits and non-prophets.

FFRF Honorary Board

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.

ffrf honorary board 2020

The FFRF Honorary Board includes a. Ed Asner, b. Jeremiah Camara, c. Sean B. Carroll, d. Jerry Coyne, e. Richard Dawkins, f. Daniel C. Dennett, g. Ernie Harburg, h. Jennifer Michael Hecht, i. Susan Jacoby, j. Robin Morgan, k. Mike Newdow, l. Katha Pollitt, m. Steven Pinker, n. Ron Reagan, o. Robert Sapolsky, p. Edward Sorel, q. Geoffrey R. Stone and r. Julia Sweeney. 

“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.

  • Ed Asner, movie and stage actor, TV ("Lou Grant") legend, winner of seven acting Emmy Awards, comedian and dramatist, has been a trade union and political activist, and two-term president of the Screen Actors Guild. He voiced Ralph in the beloved film, "Up," and portrayed Santa in "Elf."
  • Jeremiah Camara is filmmaker of "Holy Hierarchy: The Religious Roots of Racism in America" (2018), "Contradiction: A Question of Faith" (2013), and other films, and author of the books Holy Lockdown: Does the Church Limit Black Progress? and The New Doubting Thomas: The Bible, Black Folks & Blind Belief. He's also creator the widely-watched YouTube video series "Slave Sermons."
  • Sean B. Carroll, professor of molecular biology, genetics and medical genetics act the University of Wisconsin, is author of 'Brave Genius', 'Remarkable Creatures', 'The Making of the Fittest' and 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful.'
  • Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
  • Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
  • Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
  • Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
  • Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
  • Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
  • Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
  • Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
  • Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
  • Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
  • Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
  • Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
  • Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
  • Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
  • Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, joined the faculty in 1973, after clerking for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan. He later served as dean of the Law School (1987-1994) and provost of the University of Chicago (1994-2002). Stone is the author of many books on constitutional law, including Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century (2017).
  • Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”

In Memoriam 


  • Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, was author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”
  • Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, described himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”

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