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Lord’s Prayer out, silence in

Another Pennsylvania school board has decided to drop prayer at board meetings after getting a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Octorara Area School Board in Atglen voted Sept. 17 to substitute a moment of silence for Christian prayer to open meetings.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert had written an Aug. 17 letter to board President Lisa Bowman on behalf of a local complainant about the illegal recitation of the Lord's Prayer as an invocation. She reminded the board of numerous court rulings that said scheduled prayer at school board meetings is unconstitutional.

While the school hasn't formally notified FFRF of the change, according to a LancasterOnline story, the decision was made Monday. The story said Vice President Brian Norris told the board it must honor the law and that members could meet privately to prayer before the meeting.

The advice to pray privately didn't sit well with everyone, the news story said: "Three school board members, however, stepped down from the official table to protest the change. Board member John McCartney Jr. walked to the end of the table and knelt in prayer as the school board began its new tradition of a moment of silence."

Bowman was out of town but told the board in a letter: "The board should not put the district at [financial] risk. It could affect taxpayer and student programming."

The Grove City and Big Spring school boards also voted recently to stop praying before meetings after getting FFRF letters.

"Courts rightfully look with suspicion at imposition of religious ritual by public school boards," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Students who sit on boards or attend meetings shouldn't be subject to prayer they may not want to participate in or even witness."

The Anti-Defamation League had also protested the prayers.

As a result of a recent complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it appears sectarian prayer by Christian clergy over the loudspeaker at University of Tennessee-Knoxville football games will be dropped.

FFRF complained Sept. 13 to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek about the practice, in which an announcer asks all attendees to rise for the invocation, delivered by a Christian member of the clergy who invariably invokes Jesus Christ.

A letter from Cheek was faxed to FFRF mid-afternoon today, which indicated the University would conform its practice toChaudhuri v. State of Tennessee, a decision FFRF brought to the school’s attention, in which the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that nonsectarian prayer or a moment of silence at public universities is permissible. 

“While we are pleased that UTK is moving in the right direction, the wisest policy is to drop prayer entirely,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students, alums and fans come to the games to watch players, not to recite prayers! Prayer hosted by a public university is unnecessary, embarrassing and divisive. It’s just plain bad manners to knowingly inflict prayer on those of us who are not religious and believe nothing fails like prayer.”

Religious ritual hosted and endorsed by a public university excludes the one in four young persons who is nonreligious, according to PEW, and more than 430,000 Tennessee adults who identify as nonreligious, ( American Religious Identification Survey 2008).

Gaylor said to ensure nonsectarianism UTK must cease inviting clergy, who are inextricably identified with their denomination, to lead prayer. Gaylor said as a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison she stopped graduation prayer there by pointing out it excludes many students, including foreign students, and unites church with a state-funded institution.

“I have no faith in prayer, but I do have faith in the power of secular students to mobilize and educate.”

FFRF, which is based in Madison, Wis., has more than 18,500 members, including 285 in Tennessee. FFRF has halted illegal prayer at many public schools in Tennessee, at high school graduations, sporting events and even in kindergarten. “We believe the same Establishment Clause precedent which protects public school students at lower levels from school-sponsored prayer should be applied to public university students,” she said.

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Texas school halts football bible banners

The Kountze High School Lions will no longer run through banners inscribed with religious messages before the start of football games in Kountze, Texas.

On Sept. 17, Stephanie Schmitt, Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney wrote Superintendent Kevin Weldon of the Kountze Independent School District:

"It is our information and understanding that Kountze High School cheerleaders regularly display religious banners that the football team runs through before athletic competitions. We understand that each week a different bible verse is displayed for all to observe. Enclosed please find photocopies of recent banners containing bible verses. You must take immediate action to stop these religious banners from being part of school-sponsored events. It is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor or lead religious messages at school athletic events."

Schmitt cited a long list of court cases that have held such displays "constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. A reasonable Kountze student would certainly perceive the banners 'as stamped with [their] school’s approval.' "

While FFRF hasn't received an official response from the school district, a Sept. 18 story from KIII-TV in Corpus Christi said the banners are banned.

In a statement to KIII, Weldon said, "I commend [the cheerleaders] for what they stand for. But I called legal counsel and even though it's led by students, it should not be allowed to go on."

According to cheerleaders, the bible banner idea came from an instructional camp they attended. "Coaches preach devotionals before games. We wanted to show our support for our boys," Meagan Tantillo said. 

Kountze [pronounced Coontz] has about 2,100 residents. According to Wikipedia, it was the first U.S. city with a Muslim mayor, African-American Charles Bilal, in 1991. It's also home to the world's only known pair of married armadillos, Hoover and Star, married June 10, 1995.

Tantillo said the squad made Christian signs for Tuesday's volleyball game against Warren High School. Warren High volleyball players gathered with Kountze players in prayer Tuesday, KIII reported.

FFRF, a state/church watchdog has about 18,500 members nationwide and more than 900 in Texas.

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Defenders of the Constitution

FFRF’s current legal team includes three interns who are first-year law students. From left are Ben Zich, Wake Forest University; J.J. Rolling, UW-Madison; and Maddy Ziegler, UW-Madison. To Maddy’s right are staff attorneys Andrew Seidel, Rebecca Markert, Patrick Elliott and Stephanie Schmitt.

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Point, Counter-point?

FFRF member Justin Vacula made good use of an FFRF Action Alert to show up as the sole protester at the June 8 Catholic rally at Courthouse Square in Scranton, Pa. Justin is also a plaintiff in FFRF’s suit challenging Pennsylvania declaring 2012 as the Year of the Bible. Interviewed at the rally by Go Lackawanna, he said, “The Constitution is explicitly godless. It’s a secular document. The government is anything but founded on religion. A lot of the founding fathers were deistic. These people are talking about religious freedom, but if they’re really for religious freedom, it wouldn’t be about their Christian beliefs.”

Could this be a women’s health expert disguised as a nun in Scranton, Pa.? (Justin Vacula photo)


FFRF led a protest of the Fortnight of Freedom rally by the Catholic Church at the Federal Courthouse in Madison, Wis., on June 8. Bottom photo: Dan Barker being harangued. (Photos by Andrew Seidel)

I am writing to tell you about the June 8 Catholic rally in New York City. I found out where it was being held from the email that FFRF sent, which included a banner to print out.

It was much too large to print on my home printer at home, so I called my local Staples early the next morning to find out if they could print it from an email forwarded to them. The result was a beautiful 1x3-foot laminated banner on heavy paper for a very reasonable cost, saying “Quit the Church — Put Women’s Rights Over Bishops’ Wrongs.”

The rally was held in front of Federal Hall at 26 Wall St. in Manhattan. A speaker told attendees the site was selected because it was where James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in the First Congress. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause forbids government from establishing religion in any way.

This was the crux of the Catholics’ argument, that their so-called “religious freedom” was trampled on by the Obama administration’s health care proposal, later altered in a compromise, to ensure that all women had access to reproductive health care services, particularly contraception, which is contrary to the Catholic point of view.

I was interviewed and photographed by a journalist from the Brooklyn Diocese. He said he was seeking “opposing voices” to balance coverage of the event. I gave permission to use this material.

I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and photographed the banner and said things such as that they would pray for me, etc. I got into discussions with several people and tried to articulate why I believed that what the Catholic Church called “religious freedom” was in reality an attempt to prevent any woman, including those who worked for a Catholic employer, from having access to contraceptives through their health insurance.

I argued in vain that no one was required to use contraception even if available in their health care program. Over and over people said that “contraception is easy to get and cheap, about $9 a month, and so women can get it if they want it. The Catholic Church just doesn’t want to pay for it.”

I was the only opposing voice there, as far as I could tell. There seemed to be 100 to 200 demonstrators, many with signs being handed out opposing “ObamaCare” and abortion and anything else that the Catholic Church opposes in this regard. There were prayers and hymns. Speakers included, among others, a Catholic female physician, a lawyer and Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter (or so I was told).

The rally’s organization and the fervor of the onlookers was very sobering and made clear the enormous battle being waged as well as the reality of what we are up against.

I learned that it’s very difficult to be a minority of one in the face of such numbers. At least I still have my beautiful banner for another day!

Fairfid Caudle is a Lifetime Member from New York.

First Amendment heroes Jessica Ahlquist and Ellery Schempp celebrate the Reason Rally with FFRF. (Photo by Andrew Seidel)

June 25 was the 50th anniversary of the Engel decision. I write in remembrance and appreciation.

Engel v. Vitale was decided 7-1 on June 25, 1962, in a truly landmark Supreme Court case, regarding prayer in public schools. It was seminal to maintaining the “wall” of separation of church and state (as Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson later described the principle).

Before Engel, the court had decided differently as to how much various governments could “accommodate” to prevailing religious sentiments, in the Everson (1947) and Zorach (1952) cases, and ducked the school prayer issue in Doremus (1952), conflicting with the McCollum case of 1948 as to how high the wall should be.

Engel came down squarely on maintaining a high wall. The decision was written by Hugo Black for the majority, concurred with by Douglas; the only dissent was from Potter Stewart. The decision went against the amicus arguments submitted by 22 state attorneys general and particularly against the attorney for the Archdiocese of New York.

This 50th anniversary is to celebrate the real people who made this history, and did so on behalf of their children. I honor Steven Engel, Lawrence Roth, Daniel Lichtenstein, Monroe Lerner, Lenore Lyons. (Engel and Lichtenstein were members of Jewish congregations; Lerner was a member of the Society for Ethical Culture; Lyons was a member of a Unitarian Church; the Roths were nonbelievers.)

And I honor the vital role that the New York ACLU played in this case and later ones, in support of First Amendment principles, and the attorneys who argued so eloquently and persuasively. (It has always seemed to me that successful Supreme Court cases should properly be known by the names of the attorneys, not the litigants.)

Engel was decided one year earlier than the Abington v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett cases. I remember it well. I had just graduated from Tufts and was off to adventures in Greenland that summer. But my immediate reaction was that Engel paved the way, and we could not now lose Abington.

Indeed, Engel was an important precursor to the 1963 case of Abington v. Schempp, Murray v. Curlett and to many later cases: Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), Stone v. Graham (1980), Lee v. Weisman (1992), Santa Fe School District v. Doe (2000) and especially Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Roe v. Wade (1973).

My family had no direct connection to the Engel/Roth families, but there is an odd coincidence. Steven Engel described how they moved to a community called Roslyn, N.Y. The Schempp family lived in Roslyn, a part of Abington Township, in Pennsylvania. We often got mail for Roslyn, N.Y., and I learned that Engel often got mail for us, especially after the Abington-Murray decision. Steve had hoped that the 1962 decision would be the end of it, but the 1963 decision reopened the nasty letters.

All the primary people are now gone. Steve died in 2008. In 2005, I met him in his apartment on Long Island, and we had a lovely conversation. His interests were far-ranging, but he acknowledged that separation of church and state were no longer central for him. He was sad that his friend Larry Roth had died. He recalled the hatred he faced during the court case, the swastikas scrawled in wet concrete in front of his house, the threats against his 7-year-old son (Roth’s children were ages 10 through 13) and the social ostracism the children faced in school. He was worried about whether his grandchildren would be “tainted.”

One thing to keep in mind: In 1959, leading up to 1962, there was no support for these families from groups such as American Humanists, Americans United, FFRF, etc. Some, such as FFRF, did not exist then. It is important to realize how isolated secularists were in 1962, and also in the shadow of the McCarthy era (“under God” being added in 1954). The ACLU was vital.

I think there are important things to incorporate from the Engel decision. Some memorable quotes from the opinion:

• “We think that, by using its public school system to encourage recitation of the Regents’ prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. There can, of course, be no doubt that New York’s program of daily classroom invocation of God’s blessings as prescribed in the Regents’ prayer is a religious activity. It is a solemn avowal of divine faith and supplication for the blessings of the Almighty. The nature of such a prayer has always been religious, none of the respondents has denied this, and the trial court expressly so found.”

• “When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain. But the purposes underlying the Establishment Clause go much further than that. Its first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.”

• “We think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.”

Prayer is no part of the business of government. Could there ever be a more succinct focus on the proper business of governments?

I celebrate the Engel decision on this 50th anniversary. Honors go to the Engel, Roth, Lichtenstein, Lerner and Lyons families, and to the ACLU.

Ellery Schempp, an FFRF Lifetime Member, protested bible reading and devotional prayers at his own high school, a protest that turned into the subsequent landmark Abington v. Schempp decision in 1963 by the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a retired scientist who often speaks about his involvement in the Schempp case and the importance of keeping religion out of government.

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Hispanic American Freethinkers

At left and right, respectively, are Lorena Rios, vice president, and David Tamayo, president, of Hispanic American Freethinkers, Reston, Va. They visited in June with Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker at FFRF’s offices in Madison, Wis. Tamayo founded the the group in 2011 as Librepensadores Washington. It’s online at

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Meet an Intern: Susan Lund

Susan Lund
Name: Susan Lund.
Where and when I was born: Kenosha, Wis., May 13, 1987.
Family: I have a wonderfully supportive family made up of my parents, Barb and Steve, and my older sister, Libby.
Education: I earned my B.A. in linguistics from the University of Minnesota in 2009 and recently received my J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School. 
My religious upbringing was: I was baptized and confirmed at a large Lutheran church, and my family later became members of a very small liberal Lutheran church.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I didn’t discover FFRF until law school, but I immediately applied when I learned about the organization and heard that they were hiring legal interns. I was finally able to work with FFRF during my third year of law school, and they allowed me to stay on as a law clerk since my graduation. 
What I do here: I spend most of my time doing legal research and writing. This involves looking into allegations of state/church violations, finding case law to back up FFRF’s legal assertions, and sometimes writing memos to supervising FFRF attorneys informing them that I don’t think there is a legal basis to pursue a complaint. I get to spend some time talking to members about ongoing complaints and cases, which I especially enjoy. 
What I like best about it: Besides growing professionally at FFRF, I’ve grown immensely on a personal level. Through exposure to enlightened coworkers, distressed complainants and freethought literature, I’ve developed more in-depth perspectives about my rejection of religion, religion’s role in society and the necessity of state/church separation. 
Something funny that’s happened: I once emailed the Dawkins Foundation with a minor legal question so that I could better address a complaint. I got an email back from Richard Dawkins himself! This was while I was reading his book The God Delusion. I was starstruck. 
My legal interests are: I aspire to practice public interest law in Wisconsin. I have a wide range of experience and hope to use it to help people who are impoverished and/or disenfranchised through a combination of direct legal work and big-picture policy work. Anyone hiring?
My legal heroes are: Whistleblowers and dissenters, courageous people who put so much at stake and often sacrifice greatly to provoke positive change. 
These three words sum me up: I really want to blow this question off, but I’m going to attempt it: honest, passionate, analytical.
Things I like: Crafts, cooking, learning, sharing, live music, reading, exploring, social justice. 
Things I smite: Paternalism, close-mindedness, arrogance. 
Today’s most important legal issue is: Expansion of corporate personhood rights. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has played out in a number of scary ways that have huge implications for the democratic process. A recent Wisconsin example is the ridiculous amount of corporate money that entered Governor Walker’s recall election and, I believe, ultimately secured his victory.
This is relevant to state/church separation because the corporate personhood framework is being used to justify the Catholic bishops’ rejection of President Obama’s mandate for insurance to cover birth control. Employers can only object to health care provisions on religious grounds at the expense of the rights of its employees to access that health care. In essence, I believe that a system that entitles corporations to First Amendment rights drowns out human rights.

FFRF Co-Presidents

DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio. 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) and GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (Sterling Publications, 2016). 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: Timothy Hughes

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

See Dan's Debates »
Contact Dan »

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

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
See Anne Gaylor's online writings.

Director of Operations

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.

FFRF Legal

REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.

Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.

PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.

ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School in 2009, 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. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.

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.

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.

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 legal fellow.

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.

WHITNEY STEFFEN is FFRF’s Legal Assistant. Whitney is a Madison native who graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in English in 2011. Whitney received a Paralegal Post-Baccalaureate diploma from Madison College in 2014 and previously worked as a paralegal at a small law firm before coming to FFRF. She enjoys watching the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly from the galleries, reading, and spending time with her four cats.

FFRF Staff

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.

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.

MOLLY HANSON is FFRF's editorial assistant. Molly graduated from the University of Wisconsin--Madison in 2016 with a degree in journalism and a certificate in gender and women’s studies. Prior to graduating, Molly interned for FFRF. She ran for the Badger track and cross country teams while in college and still enjoys running. Also in her free time she enjoys reading about history, exploring, and traveling. Molly’s interests include music, politics, feminism, folklore and psychology.

ALYSSA SCHAEFER is FFRF’s Program Assistant.  She graduated from The George Washington University in 2014 with a BA in International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy.   A native of Wisco, she recently moved back to Madison from the east coast. In her free time Alyssa enjoys traveling, exploring the great outdoors, live music, and lazy Sundays with her cat Lola.

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.

BILL DUNN is the editor 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.

LAURYN SEERING is the publicist & communications coordianator. She was born in Wisconsin and studied abroad in Nagasaki, Japan. Lauryn graduated from the UW-Stout in 2012 with her BS in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication & International Studies. Lauryn moved to Madison in 2013 and enjoys reading about space stuff, biking and creating art at coffee shops. 

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.

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.

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!

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.

A UW graduate, TIM NOTT has called Madison home since 1991. He began his career doing campus IT support while completing a BA in English. The Internet had just become graphical and the opportunity for inexpensive, scalable communication piqued Tim's interest. After 15 years in the industry he took the entrepreneurial plunge, cofounding a startup and building a platform to help make mobile application technology as accessible and ubiquitous as the Web. The company expanded services to work on drones and the Internet of Things. Tim brings his entrepreneurial and technological skills to FFRF where he focuses on our digital products and IT infrastructure.

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.

KRISTINA DALEIDEN is a Wisconsin native and life-long freethinker. She 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.

Executive Board of Directors

View DAN BARKER's profile above. 

JIM BREDESON (Secretary) retired in 2012 from a career in academic and public libraries. He served as a reference librarian at Beloit College, Marquette University, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and as director of the library at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County for 15 years. He has been active in professional organizations and served on the boards of the Council of University of Wisconsin Libraries and Wisconsin Interlibrary Services for several years. He has undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in journalism and library/information sciences.

Jim lives in Madison with wife Cheryl and their St Bernard dog, Afton. He has been president of the local neighborhood association board and currently serves on their condominium board committees. He is a lifelong freethinker and has been an FFRF member for two decades.

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.

PATRICIA CLEVELAND, (Director) with her late husband Roger, was a founding member of the long-lived chapter, Alabama Freethought Association (active 1989-2016). Pat and Roger were awarded FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award for being outspoken atheists in the bible belt, and as volunteers for overseeing Lake Hypatia Freethought Advance (Not Retreat) near Talladega. Deeding property to FFRF, they encouraged the national FFRF to build a southern outpost, and, at Pat’s suggestion, also erect a monument to “Atheists in Foxholes.” Pat has been volunteer caretaker of the hall and campgrounds for decades, and as director or co-director of the chapter oversaw several successful lawsuits. She also arranged the annual “Glorious Fourth” of July event at Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall, attracting freethinkers not just from the South but around the country to the rural event. She is a mother and grandmother.

JOE CUNNINGHAM (Director) was born in the back hills of West Virginia, migrated with his family to the Oklahoma oil fields during the Great Depression, later returning to West Virginia, where he attended a one-room school. By high school, his family had moved to Illinois, where he had to float on a plywood boat for a total of 1,440 crossings of the Wabash River to catch the bus for high school. He joined the U.S. Navy after graduation at age 17, serving two years in the Pacific. He graduated from Southern Illinois University, earning both B.S. Ed. and M.S. Ed. degrees, majoring in history and English and taking business courses. He taught in Red Bud High School (Ill.), then in Mascoutah, where he met his wife, Norma Steines. They have two daughters, one a lawyer, one a doctor, and have five grandchildren, one of whom is finishing up her M.D. degree. He is 90 and has been retired for 31 years.

View ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR's profile above. 

STEPHEN HIRTLE (Chair) is a professor in the School of Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He is an organizer with the Steel City Skeptics and the Center for Inquiry Pittsburgh, faculty liaison for the Student Alliance at Pitt and previously 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.

STEVE SALEMSON (Treasurer) took early retirement in 2005 after nearly two decades in scholarly publishing, first as business manager of the Duke University Press and then as associate director of the University of Wisconsin Press. In previous lives, he worked as a classical musician and as 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, as well as degrees in French horn and music pedagogy from the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris. He enjoys biking, downhill skiing, doing crossword puzzles and being a grandfather. In addition to being on the board of the FFRF, he sits on the boards of the Midwest Folk Dance Association and the National Mustard Museum, and so is involved with both nonprofits and non-prophets.

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.”

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.

The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Lawrence Krauss, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and 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.

  • 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."
  • Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist, author and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, Fellow of American Physical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is featured in “The Unbelievers,” a film with Richard Dawkins, and is author of nine books, including A Universe from Nothing.
  • 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.”
  • Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
  • 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!”
  • 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.
  • 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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