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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased that the Wilkes County Board in North Carolina has replaced its error-filled proclamation declaring “Christian Heritage” all year round with a less objectionable resolution proclaiming April 21–27, 2024, as “Religious Heritage Week.

The national state/church watchdog first formally objected to the county’s Christian heritage proclamation on Dec. 20, the day after the board had adopted the resolution, noting that it painted “a false narrative perpetuating the myth that we are a Christian nation.” 

After the board voted not to rescind the proclamation, FFRF followed up on Jan. 16 with a second request showing that it was full of distortions, errors, misquotes and bowdlerizations,” and urging rescission “for the integrity of the Board.” FFRF included a seven-page memo fact-checking each paragraph, providing rebuttal and corrections. Even if the quotations had all been correct, the county still lacked authority to proclaim every year to be “Christian Heritage,” FFRF Co-Presiddent Annie Laurie Gaylor maintained.

The county and its board have no authority whatsoever to “urge all citizens to proclaim Christianity’s importance,” any more than the board could command all county citizens to attend a particular church, or to, for instance, proclaim “atheism’s importance.”

Wilkes County Attorney Anthony R. Triplett advised FFRF on April 18 that the Board of Commissioners adopted a “Religious Heritage Proclamation.” Triplett added, “This replaces the Christian Heritage Proclamation, effective as of the date of its adoption on April 16, 2024.”

Gaylor said a “Religious Heritage Week” proclamation should still be outside the scope of the county’s purposes, especially when today almost a third of the adult population has no religious affiliation.

“Certainly the county should now be willing to declare a ‘Secular Heritage Week’ as well,” Gaylor said. “However, given the fact that the original proclamation was replete with bogus quotes or conclusions, we’re glad to see the county replace it.”

FFRF notes that bad history has often been invoked to create bad laws, and it’s always imperative to correct the historic record.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) with 40,000 members nationwide, including more than 900 in North Carolina and a chapter in the Raleigh-Durham area. It works to buttress the constitutional separation between state and church.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is excoriating a theocratic bill signed into law in Tennessee that makes a version of the bible an “official state book.”

House Bill 1828, which was signed today by Gov. Bill Lee, will add the “Aitken Bible” (among other documents) as an official state book of Tennessee. The Aitken Bible plays an important role in Christian nationalist rhetoric because of a persistent myth that it was printed by the U.S. Congress for use in public schools. This is false. In fact, Congress declined a request of Robert Aitken to publish his bible. Aitken wanted Congress to endorse his bible and to publish it for placement in schools, and Congress said “no.” Professor Warren Throckmorton has thoroughly analyzed and eviscerated the propaganda behind this myth.

Two more egregious bills advancing Christian nationalism have passed the Legislature and are expected to be signed into law soon. 

House Bill 2125 designates November as “Christian Heritage Month” “encouraging citizens to learn more about Christian heritage in this state.” FFRF has fought back against similar proclamations in the past, asserting that the Christian heritage movement attributes any generic reference to religion or “God” as supporting our “Christian heritage.” This is an attempt to rewrite history to proclaim America as a “Christian nation.” Such proclamations alienate nonreligious and non-Christian Americans by turning them into political outsiders in their own state. 

House Bill 2100 uses conservative talking points to protect conservative consumers from being “discriminated against” by progressive banks, but does not provide the same protections for minority groups against religious banks. Notably, the Christian theocratic Alliance Defending Freedom is touting the progress of this bill as a win, showing that it will inevitably be used by Christian nationalists as a way to privilege Christian-run business and services. 

These bills reveal the goal of Christian nationalist legislators to place a theocratic seal on every aspect of American life: from books to banks to calendars. It goes without saying that FFRF is firmly opposed to any such measures — and is dedicated to fighting them at every turn.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lobbying arm, FFRF Action Fund, asked its advocates  to voice their concerns over these bills. Unfortunately, despite their activism, Lee was more than content to elevate Christianity above minority religions and secularism.

“Secular rights and principles in America, not just Tennessee, are truly under attack,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor comments. “We’ll continue to oppose these sorts of laws that trample on the rights of non-Christians in Tennessee and in every state.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including almost 500 members and a chapter in Tennessee, and works as a state/church watchdog to safeguard the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Photo of Weigand, Jeff
Jeff Weigand

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that a home county supervisor say sorry for his recent comments making bogus connections between homelessness and “sin.” 

At the April 4 meeting of the Dane County Board, Supervisor Jeff Weigand used his position to push his personal religious beliefs in a manner that demeans others. In defending his decision to vote against granting more than $200,000 of funding to Porchlight (a social services nonprofit) to care for the homeless, Weigand claimed that “sin” was the cause of homelessness

Sin is the root cause. … When God created this world, there was no sin, he created a  perfect world, man ruined that by sinning, and we’ve seen the depravity and the decline  of our world ever since then. So when we talk about the root cause, if you really want to  go back to why we have mental health issues, to why we have greed, to why we have  people being mean to other people, it’s sin. And until we address that issue, we’re going to continue to see this issue of homelessness and a whole slate of other issues in our society. 

Weigand later clarified that he was “referring broadly to the sinfulness of the entire human race, which fundamentalists believe stems from Adam and Eve being disobedient to God in the Garden of Eden,” which didn’t exactly help matters. He further elaborated that the county should restrict funding to those initiatives that “will hold people accountable to God’s standards.”

FFRF is asking Weigand to refrain from using his position as a Dane County supervisor to promote his personal religious beliefs and biases. His remarks degrade the unhoused (who are a protected class in Dane County) and appear to violate Dane County ordinances. And his assertion that the county should “hold people accountable to God’s standards” shows a complete misunderstanding of his duties as a secular county board supervisor when, in fact, he has taken an oath of office to uphold our nation’s godless and entirely secular Constitution.

“Our Constitution’s Establishment Clause — which protects Americans’ religious freedom by ensuring the continued separation of religion and government — dictates that the government cannot in any way favor religion,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Weigand. “When a county supervisor or other government official associates their office with an exclusively Christian message, and suggests that county funding should only go to those who are ‘accountable to God’s standards.’ they violate this essential constitutional principle.”

FFRF had previously contacted Weigand last year with concerns about his gratuitous attacks on nonreligious citizens: “There’s a lot of people that resent God, and they’re trying to stick their nose and just stick their finger in His face. And they’re doing things that they know are wrong. And it’s in direct opposition to Him, which is really unfortunate.” Weigand’s remarks then and now show that he appears to believe Dane County is a theocracy, which is especially ironic in the case of the county he supposedly represents due to the fact that nearly half of his county’s residents are not religious. 

“Please cease and desist your derisive, abrasive and judgmental religious statements and messages,” FFRF’s letter concludes. “They are needlessly divisive and unbecoming an elected official.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison-based national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including over 1,900 members in Wisconsin and hundreds in Dane County itself. 


The scientist who discovered perhaps the most key fossil in anthropological history is the guest on Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” show this week. And he happens to also be an outspoken atheist.

Donald C. Johanson is the paleoanthropologist who found Lucy in Ethiopia in 1974, and FFRF is delighted to interview him during the 50th anniversary year of this landmark discovery. Johanson has served as a professor of anthropology at several universities, but his reputation is based mainly on his fieldwork. He has written or co-written several books, including Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind and From Lucy to Language. He’s the recipient of many awards, including FFRF’s Emperor has No Clothes Award, reserved for public figures who make known their dissent from religion, and he spoke at FFRF’s 2014 national convention to accept the honor. After a fascinating “show and tell” of facsimiles of his discovery and discussion of how that changed his life — and the understanding of human evolution — Johanson freely talks about his own atheism.

“I was an atheist and still am an atheist,” he tells “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And I think that religion is probably in so many ways the root of so much evil that we see in this world — people pitted against one another.”

If you don’t live in any of the marquee towns where the show broadcasts on Sunday, you can already catch the interview on FFRF’s YouTube channel. New shows go up every Thursday.

“Freethought Matters” now airs in:

(To view details on channel variations depending on your provider, click here.) 

Upcoming shows include an interview with legal scholar and activist Marci Hamilton and an episode that spotlights a recent debate Dan Barker and Phil Zuckerman had with religionists at Oxford. You can catch interviews from previous seasons here, including with Gloria Steinem, Ron Reagan, “Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, author John Irving, actor John “Q” de Lancie and award-winning columnist Katha Pollitt. Past interviews also include Julia Sweeney and Reps. Jared Huffman, Jamie Raskin, Hank Johnson and Eleanor Holmes Norton, among many other notable authors, activists, musicians, actors and freethinkers.

Please tune in to “Freethought Matters” . . . because freethought matters.

P.S. Please tune in or record according to the times given above regardless of what is listed in your TV guide (it may be listed simply as “paid programming” or even be misidentified). To set up an automatic weekly recording, try taping manually by time or channel. And spread the word to freethinking friends, family or colleagues about a TV show, finally, that is dedicated to providing programming for freethinkers — your antidote to religion on Sunday morning!

white concrete building with flags on top during daytime
Photo by Fabio Fistarol on Unsplash

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling out the Vatican for its latest harmful statements against LGBTQIA-plus communities and women. 

In the newly released “Declaration ‘Dignitas Infinita’ on Human Dignity,” the Vatican has once again made clear its utter disregard for science and lived experience. Written over a five-year period and approved by Pope Francis, this new document makes sweeping statements calling gender-affirming care, abortion and surrogacy “grave violations of human dignity” on par with poverty, war, genocide, sexual abuse, human trafficking and eugenics.

“This document being issued at a time where transgender and reproductive rights are increasingly under attack represents a massive political threat to secular democracy,” warns FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant. “There is no doubt that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will use this document to further fuel its political attacks on women and LGBTQIA-plus communities.”

Although the document ostensibly denounces violence against LGBTQIA-plus individuals, it fails to recognize the harm and violence they face as a result of exactly this kind of rhetoric. Hate crimes against LGBTQIA-plus students in states where anti-trans laws have passed have quadrupled in recent years, in large part due to the public discourse demonizing transgender people trickling down to school-aged children. Such legislation is creating gender refugees who are moving to states without punitive legislation interfering with family decision-making. Already, 21 U.S. states ban or nearly ban abortion care — creating chaos, stress and inequity for many Americans dealing with unwanted pregnancies, even imperiling their health or lives. Calling gender-affirming and reproductive care “grave violations of human dignity” only heightens the risk of violence for people who seek out this care, their families, and their medical service providers.

“Once again, the Vatican seeks to legislate and impose its dangerous Catholic doctrines, which ignore medical science and oppose bodily autonomy,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Health care decisions belong solely to individuals, their families and their doctors — not priests.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.

Flag of Uganda - Wikipedia

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is once again sounding the alarm on Uganda’s horrific Anti-Homosexuality Act after a recent ruling by the Ugandan Constitutional Court.

In defiance of international law and pressure from the international human rights community, the court upheld many of the discriminatory provisions of the homosexuality ban passed in 2023. These provisions criminalize homosexuality with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and create the charge of “aggravated homosexuality,” which imposes the death penalty for anyone who engages in repeated same-sex relations with someone under the age of 18, over the age of 75 or who is disabled, even if that same relationship would be legal for a heterosexual couple. Though the court did strike down some aspects of the law, such as the requirement to report homosexual activity to authorities, the criminalization of renting to LGBTQIA-plus individuals and the limiting of access to health care, its overall ruling still has disastrous consequences for LGBTQIA-plus Ugandans.

More than 30 countries throughout Africa ban same-sex relationships, but Uganda is the first on the continent to ban homosexuality entirely, according to Human Rights Watch.

“These terrible laws are the direct result of centuries of Christian missionary work,” notes FFRF’s Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow Kat Grant.

Attitudes across precolonial African societies were much more open and accepting of homosexuality and gender fluidity, and many historians consider homophobia and transphobia to be cultural imports brought by European colonizers. The new Ugandan law is not simply the lasting echo of a bygone colonial era, however.

American evangelicals have taken up the torch of global white Christian supremacy since the past some decades, establishing a stronghold of influence in Uganda and other African nations. More than 20 Christian groups from the United States, including the Fellowship Foundation, Bethany Christian Services and Focus on the Family, have funneled more than $50 million into opposing sexual and reproductive rights across Africa since 2007. The Fellowship Foundation (the recently ousted sponsor of the National Prayer Breakfast) alone has poured over $20 million into Uganda and was heavily involved in the writing of the infamous “Kill the Gays” bill, which was not passed but built the foundation for this latest bigoted iteration.

“The consequences of this law are horrifying and worthy of condemnation on their own, but we should also keep in mind that these white evangelical groups are using African nations like Uganda as a proving ground for laws that they want to bring to the United States,” adds Grant.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor agrees.

“Religion — and its ceaseless demand to dictate laws — is the problem in Uganda, as it is today in the United States, where we’re facing a full-frontal assault on LGBTQ rights,” she says. “It’s unconscionable that U.S. ministries are pouring their tax-exempt millions into Uganda and other African nations in order to spread hate, division and violence.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Individual freedoms — including that foremost liberty to decide if and when to become a parent — must never be left up to states, maintains the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Proving that point is the horrific decision today by the Arizona Supreme Court ruling that the state’s 1864 abortion ban will go into effect in 14 days. Arizona wasn’t a state 150 years ago when this territorial law was passed — and women couldn’t vote. All abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, will become illegal in the state.  Physicians can be sentenced for as much as two to five years in prison for performing an abortion. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

It is indeed, as Gov. Katie Hobbs put it, a “dark day for Arizona,” that “serves only to create more chaos for women and doctors in our state.” Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, who called the decision “unconscionable,” announced she will not prosecute any doctors or women under the ban.

Only a week ago, a mirror decision was announced in Florida by its state Supreme Court. But just as in Florida, where a ballot initiative will be voted on in November to protect abortion rights, Arizonans are also ready with their own ballot measure. Arizona for Abortion Access has collected over 500,000 signatures, almost 120,000 above the number needed. The amendment would add a protection for abortion rights in the Arizona Constitution until fetal viability.

“We call on our FFRF members in Arizona, Florida and several other states still gathering signatures, such as Missouri, to help get these initiatives on the ballot in their respective states and to get out the vote,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “A majority of Americans support legal abortion. We know our members are deeply concerned about a minority of zealots imposing their religious viewpoints on the rest of us and endangering women’s rights and health.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nontheist organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 40,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including more than 1,000 members and a chapter in Arizona.


Union County Public Schools in North Carolina has informed the Freedom From Religion Foundation that it won’t promote religious events in its schools.

A concerned local community member had communicated to the state/church watchdog that Sardis Elementary School in Monroe, N.C., recently publicized a “prayer walk” event on its official Facebook page. On March 13, the school shared a post from a religious organization regarding a prayer walk that took place there. The group, Heart for Monroe, posted: 

“God is so good! What an incredible night of prayer at Sardis Elementary School! A very special thank you to all those that came out from Sardis Elementary School, First Baptist Church of Indian Trail, Shiloh Baptist Church, Euto Baptist Church, and our community. Please continue to lift up the prayer requests mentioned tonight.” ❤️ 

The school added the message: “Thank you for the special prayer walk night.” 

FFRF asked that Union County Public Schools cease using its official social media channels to promote religious events and messages and that religious groups not be given special access to district schools in the future. The U.S. Supreme Court has described the power of social media sites as being that of “the modern public square.” School officials must be particularly diligent not to entangle religious beliefs with official pronouncements made in this “modern public square.” And it appears that the district’s facility use policy does not allow rental of school hallways or grant the type of school access that was given to the organizers of this religious event. 

“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the legal counsel for the school system. “Favoring religion is exactly what a school district does when it promotes religious events and messages using its official social media pages. Promoting religious events demonstrates that the district favors religion over nonreligion, and Christianity over all other faiths.”

Such sectarian religiosity also conflicts with the personal religious and nonreligious views of many district students and families, including the nearly one in three Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, FFRF added. At least a third of Generation Z (those born after 1996) have no religion, with a recent survey revealing almost half of Gen Z qualify as “Nones” (religiously unaffiliated).

FFRF’s alert has propelled the school district to act in the right way.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” the district’s legal counsel recently responded via email. “The post has been removed and we are working with staff to ensure that they understand the requirements related to activities at the school.”

FFRF is always happy to nudge governmental entities onto the correct constitutional course.

“A major purpose of ours is to make certain that public officials honor our secular Constitution and keep divisive religion out of our public schools,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re glad that Union County Public Schools has given us such an assurance.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members  and several chapters across the country, including more than 900 members and a local chapter in North Carolina. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 


A state/church watchdog’s complaint over a county clerk website post that crosses the constitutional line is heating up in Rowan County, Ky. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the Rowan County Clerk’s Office in Kentucky to complain about its inappropriate use of a graphic depicting the crucifixion of Jesus on a social media message posted on Good Friday (see above). It turns out the Rowan County Clerk’s Office also posted a large Christian cross image on Easter saying, “May He bless you with all the joy and happiness life has to offer . . . Happy Easter.” 

Now, Rowan County Clerk Elwood Caudill Jr. is compounding the violations by his continuing comments on social media complaining about FFRF’s legal letter. 

FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Samantha F. Lawrence counseled Caudill: “By promoting Christian messages on the official Clerk’s Office’s Facebook page, your office conveys a message to all non-Christians in Rowan County that they are disfavored members of the community.” FFRF asked the office ensure that employees refrain from posting sectarian messages using official governmental channels.

Instead, Caudill defiantly posted FFRF’s complaint letter on his personal Facebook page, commenting, “So just when you think that things are looking up. I get this email and letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation today 4/4/2024 on my work email. So here it goes. Hope the concerned citizens are happy. [praying hand and clapping hand emojis] We will send a Prayer for you [two praying hands, one clapping hand emojis].” A number of individuals added their criticisms. One commenter added a post saying, “One of these days every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord.” Caudill goes on to say that he is considering getting rid of the entire County Clerk’s page and instructs his personal page followers to get news from other sources. Caudill’s comment demonstrates a lack of introspection, comments Lawrence, who adds: “This 'my way or the highway' approach is unbecoming of any serious public servant — or Christian. He states that he ‘is not ready for a lawsuit and the restrictions that come along with having a Government page.’” 

Official government social media accounts must comply with the Establishment Clause, as well as the First Amendment as a whole. Thus, government accounts cannot promote religion over nonreligion or, in this case, Christianity over all other faiths. Further, courts have held that in some limited circumstances, a government official’s social media activity can violate the First Amendment even if the account is not an entirely official account. That’s why it’s best practice for government officials and employees to keep religion off official accounts and avoid mixing their personal religion with government business online.

Unfortunately, Kentucky remains one of a minority of states that still has a statute closing governmental offices on Good Friday, that most dolorous of Christian holy days, with no “secular trimmings” that non-Christians can share. Despite that antiquated statute, governmental offices may not lend their support to one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion.

“This county clerk is working at cross-purposes,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “He must stop using county-related social media to promote his personal religious views and uphold the principle of separation between state and church that has made our nation so great.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members in Kentucky and an FFRF Kentucky chapter. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s TV show focuses this week on the “Forgotten Founder” Thomas Paine — and a planned monument to him in the nation’s capital.

A pair of leading experts are interviewed on “Freethought Matters” about the revolutionary patriot and freethinker. The two talk about how they, FFRF and others have helped pass a law to authorize a long overdue national monument to Paine in Washington, D.C. — and about how you can help. 

Margaret Downey is a well-known freethought activist who is president of the Freethought Society and president of the Thomas Paine Memorial Association, which is the group Congress has authorized to erect a monument to Paine in D.C. Zenos Frudakis, who will sculpt the Paine monument, is perhaps best known for his Freedom sculpture in downtown Philadelphia. Some viewers might recall that Frudakis was the subject of a “Freethought Matters” show last year, recorded on site in his studio.

“As a freethinker, Thomas Paine's reputation was under question mostly by religious people who didn't like that,” Downey explains to “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor about why he has been largely forgotten. “He questioned the bible. He wrote the book The Age of Reason, and he did take on religious beliefs and the figures that represent the authority of religion.”

If you don’t live in any of the marquee towns where the show broadcasts on Sunday, you can already catch the interview on FFRF’s YouTube channel. New shows go up every Thursday.

“Freethought Matters” now airs in:

(To view details on channel variations depending on your provider, click here.) 

Upcoming shows include interviews with legendary paleontologist and outspoken atheist Donald C. Johanson, the discoverer of “Lucy,” and author and attorney Marci Hamilton, a critic of extreme religious liberty, and an episode that spotlights a recent debate Dan Barker and Phil Zuckerman had with religionists at Oxford. You can catch interviews from previous seasons here, including with Gloria Steinem, Ron Reagan, “Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, author John Irving, actor John “Q” de Lancie and award-winning columnist Katha Pollitt. Past interviews also include Julia Sweeney and Reps. Jared Huffman, Jamie Raskin, Hank Johnson and Eleanor Holmes Norton, among many other notable authors, activists, musicians, actors and freethinkers.

Please tune in to “Freethought Matters” . . . because freethought matters.

P.S. Please tune in or record according to the times given above regardless of what is listed in your TV guide (it may be listed simply as “paid programming” or even be misidentified). To set up an automatic weekly recording, try taping manually by time or channel. And spread the word to freethinking friends, family or colleagues about a TV show, finally, that is dedicated to providing programming for freethinkers — your antidote to religion on Sunday morning!


A Christian group has been barred from targeting an Illinois school district’s children with religious propaganda, thanks to the efforts of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A concerned parent informed the state/church watchdog that Marion Community Unit School District #2 was regularly allowing outside adults to enter Adams School during the school day to give low-income students food and candy — along with overtly proselytizing messages. Gum Drop Kids, a southern Illinois nonprofit, provides snacks to low-income children at Adams School every Friday, and two of the snacks this year contained proselytizing messages. For instance, a Valentine’s Day card said “Jesus loves you!!” with a Latin cross drawn at the bottom. Another snack was accompanied with a bookmark with the same religious message as the Valentine’s Day card. 

Students — including low-income students — have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, FFRF insisted. 


“It is a basic constitutional principle that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Becky Moss. “Here, Gum Drop Kids uses access to particularly vulnerable school children to promote a religious message that seeks to convert children to Christianity."

Gum Drop Kids’ tactic of combining indoctrination with charity is a common tactic employed by some ministries: handing over food with a bible or other religious literature. The purpose is to lure disadvantaged individuals into believing that such religion — here Christianity — is responsible for or somehow attached to the cessation of hunger and dawning of prosperity. Ultimately, it is the public school’s responsibility to ensure that materials given to children on school property during the school day do not unconstitutionally promote religion. 

FFRF urged the school district to investigate this matter and ensure that Adams School ceases permitting outside adults to evangelize students during the school day. Only hours later, the district responded to FFRF. 

“I received your letter and I have made contact with one of the Gum Drops organizers; I told her that we appreciate the Gum Drops bags but I ask that moving forward there are no messages promoting religion in any way,” Superintendent Moss replied via email. “Separation of church and state must be upheld.”

FFRF appreciates the focus of the school district on constitutional matters.

“We always feel that our work has been accomplished when school officials respond positively,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We applaud actions to alleviate food insecurity or brighten up the school day with occasional treats, but it is exploitation when the real intent is proselytization.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,200 members and a chapter in Illinois. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

USC Womens Basketball coach, Dawn Staley

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling constitutional misconduct on University of South Carolina basketball head coach Dawn Staley for her recent comments denigrating nonbelievers.

In her conversation with ESPN reporter Holly Rowe courtside Sunday following her team’s victory over Oregon State, Staley said that there is something “wrong” with those who don’t believe in God: “If  you don’t believe in God, something is wrong with you. Seriously!”

Staley has also continued her practice of preparing “gameday devotional” for players and sharing these chosen bible verses on her social media pages as “Head Coach of South Carolina Women’s Basketball.” This is inappropriate for a number of reasons, including the fact that her X account is directly linked to the South Carolina Women’s Basketball account. She continues to describe each game as “Jesus versus” whoever the team’s opponent is, creating a Christian environment within the basketball program that excludes non-Christian and nonreligious players.

Non-Christian and nonreligious players should feel welcome and respected as part of the women’s basketball team, FFRF emphasizes, not be told by their coach that they are on a team that is representing Jesus and that “if you don’t believe in God, something is wrong with you.” 

“The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored proselytizing in public schools,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to University of South Carolina President Michael Amiridis. “In all of these cases, the federal courts have struck down school prayers because it constitutes a government advancement and endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

In Mellen v. Bunting, FFRF adds, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over South Carolina, extended the scope of these cases from primary and secondary schools to college-aged students when institutional circumstances create a coercive religious environment. Coaches exert great influence and power over student athletes and those athletes will follow the lead of their coach, FFRF points out. This is especially true for powerhouse programs like the University of South Carolina’s women’s basketball team. Using a coaching position, especially one of this stature, to promote Christianity amounts to religious coercion. 

The University of South Carolina should not lend its power and prestige to religion, since it recognizes that its “campus community can truly thrive only when those of all backgrounds and experiences are welcomed and respected,” according to its own language. A full 37 percent of the American population is non-Christian, including the almost 30 percent who are nonreligious. A recent survey reveals that almost half of Gen Z qualify as “Nones” (religiously unaffiliated). Staley’s religious activities and denigrating comments alienate and exclude a significant portion of University of South Carolina students. 

FFRF has written to the university a number of times previously about Staley’s ostentatious religiosity, but she has only ramped it up. The University of South Carolina must take action to protect its student athletes and to ensure that Staley understands that she has been hired as a basketball coach and not as a pastor, FFRF insists.

“Coach Staley is coercing her students to adopt religion even beyond the ‘pray to play’ notion,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Her insults to all  those who don’t believe in her particular religion cannot be countenanced by a public university.” 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in South Carolina. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

 

Florida has fallen to anti-abortion crusaders. A crushing decision on Monday, April 1, by the state Supreme Court approved one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation calls it appalling that the ruling will effectively eliminate abortion access throughout the South when the ban takes effect in 30 days. Hope is found in a separate decision issued on the same day by the same court, however, ruling that an amendment to enshrine abortion rights in Florida’s Constitution can go on the November ballot. The high court sided with Floridians Protecting Freedom, which gathered more than 1.5 million signatures for the ballot initiative, after Florida’s attorney general sued to halt it.

In the abortion judgment, the court ruled 6-to-1 in favor of the state’s 15-week ban dating to 2022, which will trigger a stricter six-week ban passed earlier this year. The conservative court ran roughshod over a privacy amendment Florida voters adopted in 1980, at a time when Florida court decisions repeatedly acknowledged that the right to privacy was expanded under Roe, wrote Justice Jorge Labarga in a dissent. Labarga also emphasized that the Florida Supreme Court itself issued a 1989 ruling holding that Florida’s express right of privacy encompasses the right to an abortion.

Revealing how devastating the ban will be is a statistic cited in the Washington Post showing that 82,000 abortions were performed in Florida last year, more than in almost any other state. The 15-week ban that was already in place had compelled many Floridians with unwanted pregnancies to travel out of the South. Other states where abortion is legal will not be able to meet the need, showing the casual cruelty of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban, which the Post points out he promoted as a key issue in his failed presidential bid.

The constitutional amendment drive provides ground for tempered optimism. A 60 percent supermajority will be needed to pass the proposed amendment on the November ballot, which reads: “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.” A late 2023 poll shows how close the vote may be, with 62 percent of respondents saying they’d vote “yes” on the proposed amendment, 29 percent would vote no, and 9 percent with no response.

“We are confident that Floridians who value freedom from church-and-state control of this most personal decision over when and whether to become a parent will vote to undo Florida’s pernicious ban,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 2,000 members and the Central Florida Freethought Community chapter in Florida. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

DCP Spring 2024 Display

A display that the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Windy City chapter put up to represent secular views in Chicago during Eastertime has been cut down and stolen.

The Chicago Daley Center security notified FFRF’s Metropolitan Chicago Chapter that they have a video of a man walking up to the Daley Plaza display, cutting the panels from the frame, rolling them up under his arm and walking off.

FFRF is offering a $1,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator. FFRF has a receipt showing the two banners cost $1,002 in 2014, which, under Illinois law, makes the criminal act a class 3 felony. Hate crime enhancement would make this a class 4 felony.

The colorful banners promote the views of the Founders in favor of separation between religion and government. One reads “In Reason We Trust” and pictures Thomas Jefferson, highlighting his famous advice to a nephew: “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” The other proclaims, “Keep State & Religion Separate,” and pictures President John Adams, who signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which assured that “the government of the United States is not in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The exhibit was installed on Wednesday, March 27, to be up for a week but was targeted just a day after. 

The FFRF display is designed to balance a period of prayer and evangelism that occurs annually in Daley Plaza by a Catholic group, the Thomas More Society, which has preached in the plaza every Easter since 2011. The group’s aim, through its “Divine Mercy Project,” is to seek the “conversion of Chicago, America and the whole world.” The Thomas More Society’s Catholic shrine typically includes a large wooden Latin cross, a 9-foot banner of Jesus, and “kneelers” for people to pray. In past years, Catholic supporters have held 24-hour prayer vigils, distributed thousands of prayer cards and hosted anti-abortion rallies in front of the Jesus painting.

Rather than place such displays on church grounds where they belong, the Thomas More Society explicitly seeks to take over public property for its purposes, claiming that at Daley Plaza it encounters “militants, feminists, Satanists, radical Muslims, just about everybody.”

The FFRF has put together its Chicago Daley Center exhibit to counter such attitudes.

“We erect the display to protest a religious prayer shrine that’s placed annually on government property by a private Catholic organization during the so-called ‘Christian holy week,’” explains FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter President Steven Foulkes.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor condemns the cowardly crime of the display theft, saying it shows the intent of Christian nationalists to proclaim the supremacy of Christian adherents, censor pluralism and dissenting views and turn the almost 3-in-10 adult Americans who have no religious affiliation into second-class citizens.

(Pictured alongside the display are supporters that helped put together the display earlier this week:  FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter Board members Steve Foulkes, Bob Hunter and Shane Stapley.)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog with more than 40,000 nonreligious members and several chapters all over the country, including 1,100-plus members and the Metropolitan Chicago chapter in Illinois.

A screenshot from the show freethought matters of the guest Steven Emmert

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s guest this week is constantly striving to protect the interests of secular Americans.

Steven Emmert is the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that works to preserve the equal rights of nonreligious Americans. (FFRF is one of the 20 groups that is part of the coalition.) Emmert has been on the staff of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, the YWCA and Us helping Us, serving Black gay men. Emmert has advocated for health access and equity in eight state capitols, as well as on Capitol Hill. 

“We have a speaker of the House now who identifies as a Christian nationalist, and their worldview, if you will, revolves completely around their religion,” Emmert explains to  “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. “They feel that what should govern our country is those values, and our country was not set up to be that way at all. In fact, it was created to be just the opposite of that.”

If you don’t live in any of the marquee towns where the show broadcasts on Sunday, you can already catch the interview on FFRF’s YouTube channel. New shows go up every Thursday.

“Freethought Matters” now airs in:

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Upcoming shows include an interview with legendary paleontologist Donald C. Johanson, the discoverer of “Lucy,” and an episode that spotlights a recent debate Dan Barker and Phil Zuckerman had with religionists at Oxford. You can catch interviews from previous seasons here, including with Gloria Steinem, Ron Reagan, “Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, author John Irving, actor John “Q” de Lancie and award-winning columnist Katha Pollitt. Past interviews also include Julia Sweeney and Reps. Jared Huffman, Jamie Raskin, Hank Johnson and Eleanor Holmes Norton, among many other notable authors, activists, musicians, actors and freethinkers.

Please tune in to “Freethought Matters” . . . because freethought matters.

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