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In the News - May 2012

Gay rights fight: Win some, lose some

North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment May 8 to ban gay marriage, which was already illegal by statute. Of the 2.1 million votes, 61% favored and 39% opposed the amendment. It adds two sentences to the section on marriage:

“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

Churches were very involved in the election, with the vast majority opposed to same-sex marriage. Patrick Wooden, a black Pentecostal pastor in Raleigh, denounced Barack Obama from the pulpit for being “in support of sin” a few days after the amendment passed and Obama came out publicly for equal marriage rights for gays.

The LGBT issue is dividing congregations and denominations around the U.S. United Methodists voted in May to uphold a ban on ordaining gay ministers.

In Colorado, a civil unions bill opposed by most churches was killed 5-4 in committee May 14 after the governor called a special session to deal with the bill that Republicans had filibustered in regular session.

Also on May 14, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order declaring the state will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, giving gay couples the same rights as heterosexual ones.

In Arizona, Pius X trumps Title IX

Paige Sultzbach, 15, is the only girl on her Mesa, Ariz., baseball team. A team from Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School in Phoenix forfeited the championship game to Mesa on May 10 rather than face a female player.

Paige sat out two earlier games against the Catholic team but refused to miss the championship game.

The school said in a statement that “proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty” in co-ed sports. The ultra-conservative Society of Saint Pius X operates Our Lady of Sorrows.

Study: Church scams total $35 billion

The Wall Street Journal reported May 7 that of the $569 billion that churchgoers and others are expected to donate to Christian causes worldwide in 2012, about $35 billion or 6% of the total will end up in the hands of “money launderers, embezzlers, tax evaders or unscrupulous ministers living too high on the hog.” The articles cites a study by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

The article notes that churches aren’t required to file IRS Form 990 that other 501(c)(3) nonprofits must file. [FFRF does file the 990, which makes its financial operation transparent for donors and the public.]

Study: ‘Modest’ decline in religious belief

A recent study by University of Chicago sociologist Tom Smith, “Beliefs about God across Time and Countries,” summarized May 14 in Foreign Policy, looked at “belief in God” in 30 countries between 1991 and 2008. Citizens of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) had the highest rate of atheism at 52%.

Nations with high numbers of nonbelievers: The Czech Republic, 40%; France, 23%; the Netherlands, 20%; and Sweden, 19%.

The most religious country in the survey was the Philippines, where 84% are sure God exists. In the U.S., 61% are sure of the existence of God. The study concludes, “Belief in God has decreased in most countries, but the declines are quite modest.”

Judge Roy Moore back to high court?

Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice famous for a 5,000-pound Ten Commandments monument, won 50.14% of the Republican primary vote in March and will face a Democrat in November in the race for Supreme Court chief justice. Moore, 65, held the job in 2001-03 but was forced out when he defied a federal order to remove the monument in the rotunda in the Judicial Building in Montgomery.

A nine-member judicial ethics panel voted unanimously to remove Moore from office for flouting the order.

“Roy Moore is a walking, talking argument against judicial elections,” Alex Koppelman wrote March 14 in The New Yorker.

Compassion motivates nonbelievers more

A new study from the University of California-Berkeley shows “highly religious people are less motivated by compassion to show generosity than are nonbelievers.”

The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said.

Social psychologist and study co-author Robb Willer said, “Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not. The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity or reputational concerns.”

Singer’s fans go gaga, Islamic groups don’t

Reuters reported that pop star Lady Gaga has been banned from performing as scheduled June 3 in Jakarta, Indonesia, because of objections by Islamic groups about her “vulgar” style.

While Indonesia is officially a secular state, it has the world’s largest Muslim population.

“She’s a vulgar singer who wears only panties and a bra when she sings, and she stated she is the envoy of the devil’s child and that she will spread satanic teaching,” said Salim Alatas of the Islamic Defender Front.

More than 30,000 tickets had been sold, ranging in price from 465,000 rupiah ($50.35) to 2.25 million rupiah ($240).

Study: Churches too involved with politics

A Pew Forum poll conducted March 7-11 asked, “Should churches and other houses of worship keep out of political matters or should they express their views on day-to-day social and political matters?”

Results: Keep out, 54%; express views, 40%

Another poll statement: “There has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer by political leaders.”

Nearly half of Democrats (46%), 24% of Republicans and 42% of independents said there’s been too much discussion.

Oregon couple charged in son’s death

Brandi and Russel Bellew, Creswell, Ore., are charged with second-degree manslaughter in the December death of Austin Sprout, 16, of an “undisclosed treatable ailment.” The family attends the General Assembly and the Church of the First Born, which puts prayer over medical care. Both of the Bellew’s previous spouses died at young ages, as did two of Russel Bellew’s children from his first marriage, according to a story in the Eugene Register-Guard.

Six of the couple’s children were made wards of the state April 16 while they await trial.

Egyptian, 17, sentenced for mocking Islam

An Egyptian court sentenced a 17-year-old Christian boy to three years in jail April 4 for publishing cartoons on his Facebook page that mocked Islam and the prophet Muhammad. Gamal Abdou Massoud was also accused of distributing his cartoons to friends in the city of Assiut.

About 10% of Egypt’s population of 80 million are Christians.

‘Monkey bill enacted in Tennessee’

Tennessee joined Louisiana April 10 as the second state to authorize teachers to “teach the controversy” about evolution and global warming. The Tennessee bill became law without Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. Haslam refused to veto the bill, which he called flawed: “Good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion.”

The National Center for Science Education headlined the story on its website as “Monkey bill enacted in Tennessee.”

“Telling students that evolution and climate change are scientifically controversial is miseducating them,” said Eugenie Scott, the group’s executive director.

Florida robber made his victim pray

Tampa Bay Online reported April 13 that a robber made his victim, a pizza delivery driver, pray while he pointed a gun at him and took $100, according to sheriff’s deputies in Manatee County, Fla.

The robber made the victim lay on the ground. Then the robber said a prayer and made the victim repeat the prayer.

Actor dies portraying Judas’ suicide

Tiago Klimeck, 27, died on Easter Sunday from accidental hanging while reenacting the suicide of Judas on Good Friday in Itarare, Brazil. Klimeck was hanging for about four minutes before fellow performers realized something was wrong.

Faith-healing case to Wis. high court

A Wisconsin state appeals court has asked the state Supreme Court to decide if jurors wrongly convicted Dale and Leilani Neumann for the 2008 death of their daughter, Kara, 11, of undiagnosed diabetes. The couple prayed but sought no medical help.

“We submit that it is appropriate for Wisconsin’s highest court to determine the scope of the prayer treatment exception and to inform trial courts regarding the appropriate jury instructions when the exception is raised in a reckless homicide case,” said the May 1 ruling from the Wausau-based Third District Court of Appeals.

The parents were sentenced to six months in jail, 10 years’ probation and 120 hours of community service, with the jail terms stayed pending appeals.

‘Wasted Without Jesus’ shirt roils school

William Swinimer, a high school student in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia, was suspended for five days for wearing a shirt that said “Life Is Wasted Without Jesus” and for repeatedly proselytizing schoolmates. When he returned May 7, reported the Halifax Chronicle Herald, students held a forum to discuss religious beliefs and freedom of speech.

William was unable to participate though, because his father came to school waving the bible at media and took William home. “He will not attend this school unless they are having readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic, good old-fashioned academics. When they’re having forums, when they’re having other extracurricular activities, he will not attend that school.”

Judith Sullivan-Corney, School Board chairwoman, said she could not discuss all the issues involved due to confidentiality. “Unfortunately, it all became about the T-shirt.”

Riley Gibb-Smith, 15, said, “This thing never was about a shirt. He’s telling kids they’ll burn in hell if they don’t confess themselves to Jesus.”


There is no nice way of saying it. Our [ultra-Orthodox Jewish] community protects molesters. Other than that, we are wonderful.

Pearl Engelman, whose great-grandson reported he was molested as a child at the United Talmudical Academy, which allowed the alleged perpetrator to return to teaching

New York Times, 5-10-12

Massachusetts Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Children and Families (DCF) will now refrain from making inappropriate religious references in their correspondence.

An HHS employee forwarded FFRF an official letter from a DCF employee which included the phrase “may God richly bless you.” FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt noted that “the United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion” in her Jan. 25 letter to HHS Chief of Staff Stacey Monahan.

Monahan replied after FFRF sent a March 19 follow-up letter. She said the departments “regret any offense engendered,” and affirmed that they would “caution employees generally regarding inappropriate religious references in communications made in their official capacities.”

Indian Caves State Park in Shubert, Neb., has removed a large, wooden cross from its property after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Ron Stave, Chair of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, on May 22: “No court of final resort has ever upheld the government’s permanent display of a Latin cross on public land as constitutional. The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable.”

The director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission responded promptly, notifying FFRF the following day that the cross has been removed.

Granite City, Ill., residents will no longer have to tacitly endorse a church or face a fine, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Granite City municipal code required residents to purchase and prominently display sticker permits on their car windows each year. This year’s permit featured a photo of St. John United Church of Christ. Drivers who did not want to showcase the religious building faced up to $100 in fines for each day that the permit was not displayed. A local FFRF member opposed this use of city permits and contacted FFRF.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Granite City Mayor Edward Hagnauer in late April. Elliott pointed out that the mandatory church stickers violated the First Amendment rights of residents. "No person can be compelled to display a message that violates her rights of conscience," wrote Elliott. He added "The stickers give the impression to observers that the city approves of. . . St. John UCC."

In response to FFRF's complaint, the city council met on May 15 to adopt a resolution allowing residents to refrain from displaying the vehicle permits. The resolution provided that police would not enforce the sticker requirement. Residents would still have to pay the permit fee but a receipt would suffice as proof of a permit. 

Students and coaches will no longer be praying in the locker room at McAllen High School (McAllen, Texas), thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

McAllen’s head football coach reportedly asked a student to recite the Lord’s Prayer before each game. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent James Ponce on Feb. 1: “The coaches’ apparent organizing and obvious participation in a team prayer constitutes an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.”

Assistant Superintendent Mike Barrera responded after an April 18 follow-up letter, replying on May 9 that the district “has taken steps to orient staff and heighten awareness about the proper procedures involved in student led prayers at public events.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that disclaimers will be placed on religious clubs’ fliers at Foothill High School in Redding, Calif.

The school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes put out fliers inviting readers to an event called “Campus United” to “join…in a night of worship as God breaks down barriers between our schools and churches.” FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Jim Cloney on April 9, 2012: “It is important for a school district that allows such distribution to be cognizant of how that literature will be received by its students and parents and to exercise the control it retains over the content of that literature.”

Cloney responded on May 1, saying that he agreed “that flyers announcing events such as this one typically carry a disclaimer to clarify that the event is sponsored by the club and not the school” and that future announcements would have the disclaimer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has silenced a proselytizing first-grade teacher at Minford Elementary School in Minford, Ohio.

Prior to FFRF's complaint, young and impressionable first-grade students were subjected to bible lessons in their public school classroom. The offending teacher was cited with inserting religion into the curriculum during the holiday season. This teacher issued religious assignments and referred to Christmas as "Jesus' birthday." She also asked students to color a sheet depicting Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a manger. The worksheet included an overtly and leading Christian question: "Who has a birthday on Christmas?" FFRF and its local complainant were concerned the teacher would continue "to teach biblical stories as fact and indoctrinating her very young students."

FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt first wrote to Superintendent Mark Wilcheck on Feb. 16: "No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students. If this teacher taught her students that Christmas was the day that Jesus was born, she violated basic constitutional principles."

It wasn't until Schmitt complained again in April that she received a response. A representative of the school district confirmed that the administration warned "all of the first grade teachers about the legal parameters for teaching about religion in the classroom." 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that there will be no further Christian prayers by government employees in Mecklenburg County, N.C.

FFRF received a complaint after three different Mecklenburg County employees gave sectarian prayers at a mandatory training luncheon for the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS). In a Feb. 8 letter to DSS Director Mary Wilson, FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt informed the agency that “the prayers and statements made at the DSS training meeting on Jan. 25 impermissibly advanced Christianity and led a reasonable observer to believe that the department is endorsing not only religion over non-religion, but also Christianity over all other faiths.”

After an April 18 follow-up letter, a county attorney responded on April 23, assuring FFRF that “the matter has been addressed and is resolved. The County and DSS are very much aware of Constitutional constraints placed on governmental behavior.”

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, is 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, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”

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