The school board at my child’s school is praying before school board meetings. Is that legal?
Are religious clubs/groups in public schools legal? What about freethought/atheist clubs?
Calling All Non-believers . . . Come Out of the Closet!
Make a 'Virtual Billboard'
Note: FFRF's out of the closet video project is temporarily suspended. But you may view previously uploaded videos.
Name: Charles D. Hoornstra.
Where I live: Madison, Wis.
Where I was born: Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Family: My wife and two daughters — one with two children, a girl age 13 and a boy age 11.
Why I volunteer for FFRF: Like Madison and Jefferson, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. For me, as a nonbeliever, FFRF is a home for like-minded people who insist on intellectually honest thinking.
What I do as a volunteer: So far, I have graded student essays.
What I like best about it: I am very impressed with the quality of the young people. They are resolute in their independent reasoning. They don’t let myths or false assumptions get in the way. Plus, many of them are outstanding writers with compelling personal stories to tell.
Something funny that’s happened at work: Being retired, I have no current work story to tell. But I must confess the other day I stupidly emailed my water bill payment to Madison, Ala., instead of to Madison, Wis.
Education: Madison West High School, 1959; B.A. and M.A. in philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1963, 1965; J.D., UW-Madison Law School, 1967.
My day job is/was/will eventually be: I am a retired Wisconsin assistant attorney general. I worked in a variety of areas in my 36 years, including positions in state government and at the University of Wisconsin. I taught business law courses at UW-Platteville and UW-Madison. For many years I served the Law School in an ad hoc capacity, teaching the practicum courses. I still help out with the moot court programs.
Education: Undergraduate, graduate and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
These three words sum me up: According to my grandchildren, I am awesome, funny and fair. But of course, they are the least objective people in the world on that question.
My freethought heroes are: David Hume, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell.
Things I like: Sports, history and being a grandfather.
Things I smite: Confirmation bias (starting with a desired conclusion, rejecting conflicting facts and cherry-picking supportive facts).
Why did I closet my atheism so long? Because I did not want to tarnish my father’s community legacy. He was an effective and popular local pastor.
Name: Noah Brunell.
Where and when I was born: New London, N.H., March 16, 1994.
Family: Parents, Deborah Schachter (51) and Thomas Bunnell (58); sister Eliza (18).
Education: Rising junior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
My religious upbringing was: Jewish. I went to a Reform synagogue, attended Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah, etc., although my Jewish mother and Christian father were always careful to let me come to my own conclusions.
How I came to work as an FFRF intern: The roots of my skepticism reach back to the d’var Torah (lesson of the Torah) which I wrote and then delivered at my bar mitzvah at age 13. Surprisingly well-received given its heretical slant, my talk centered on questioning why a benevolent god would smite Aaron’s sons, concluding that even religious doctrine is only meant to offer guiding principles rather than “The Word,” and even then, it often has some pretty bad advice.
Thereafter, I clung to Judaism for its cultural comforts, but not for its answers to the metaphysical questions of the universe and the transcendent. For those, I looked to science and increasingly, to literature and poetry. Since I’d developed into an atheist, FFRF seemed like the place to be.
What I do here: I compile bios of famous freethinkers for the Freethought of the Day portion of our website and write summaries of FFRF’s legal victories. I help out wherever needed.
What I like best about it: It’s great to work for an organization helping to effect important change and to write about those changes actually taking effect.
Something funny that’s happened at work: All too often, people call to spew odious and empirically dubious claptrap (did God send religious people to make life a living hell for nonbelievers?). I love that my desk is situated so that I can hear the creative responses the people answering the phones come up with in response to these crank calls: Lisa’s “Well, I hope you pray for me!” Katie’s recent go-to — shouting, “USA USA USA!” Or one that’s been suggested, but hasn’t been implemented yet: “Thank you for calling the Christian-Atheist Dating Hotline! What type of atheist are you interested in today?” Cracks me up.
My academic interests are: English literature, religion, politics and German.
My heroes are: Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin.
These three words sum me up: Introspective, curious, outdoorsy.
Things I like: Postmodern fiction, running, social justice, Woody Allen movies, corny puns.
Things I smite: Men’s rights activists, passive aggression, the Religious Right, bigotry.
My loftiest goal: Peace.
With the emergence of the Islamic State (aka ISIS), crank mailers have a new suggested location for us to move to, along with Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and France. A small sample of the many hundreds of emails FFRF received recently, printed as received.
To FFRF Ideas: Ïve met allot of pricks in my day but this group is a fucking cactus. May god bless you. — Steven Haley
first amendment: I hope all your members’ nipples fall off and grow back on their foreheads and they all start lactating at the same time. That’s also part of that first amendment thing. Freedom of speech and of religion doesn’t seem to be on your fascist radar. I’m sure you guys and Hitler would have gotten along fine. I mean you guys look at people that believe in God the same way he did the Jewish population. — Russ Walker, Colorado Springs
Your Children: All of your children need a bullet right between their eyes. — Elmo Sippy, Ellijay, Ga. [Editor’s note: This was reported to police.]
The Scumbag Mooslims in Minnesota: You prevent chaplains in FLA from saying a prayer before games, but you don’t say a word when the goat fuckers want to build a Mosque, aka recruiting ground, in Minnesota? You just want to eviscerate Christians, you GOD less cocksuckers. FUCK OFF AND DIE. — Connecticut
We have enough babies in America: I think you are right up there with ISIS. Virtually the same thing only based in America. We dont gripe about you driving your foreign cars do we as Christians? No, because we dont care. We’ll look the other way when yoi drive by in your Toyota. YOU ARE A BUNCH OF SELF ABSORBED WORTHLESS SELFISH CHILDREN THAT PROBABLY GOT BEAT UP ALL THE TIME IN SCHOOL. SO PUT YOUR CRAYONS AWAY AND YOUR COLORED PAPER AND PENCILS AND LOOK AT THE REAL THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY. — Jameson Mayer, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Crosses: How do I go about removing your foundation from the United States? I am a war veteran and your foundation offends me. — James Kimble
P.S. Hey did you know there is a cross on my computer keyboard.
religion: are,t there better things to worry about like bulling in schools drugs weapons getting a education that,s what really should matter. — teresa low, connersville, indiana
Religion: You guys are a bunch of dumbass fucktards. How can you be offended by something you don’t believe in? Assholes! — Mr. Jesus, Heaven, Illinois
Plaques at schools: As a non-practicing Jew myself I just want to say that you are a bunch of idiots. You have so little faith in your faithlessness that you feel intimidated by crosses and plaques on public lands. This country was built on a Judeo-Christian ideal. I just wish that our idiot judges would wake up and throw your lawsuits, and you, out on your butts. — Stephen Lubin, New York
Freedom of religion: For an orginazation that doesn’t want religon sure does act like it is carrying on a crusade of religous porportion. I should sue you on behalf of tax payers for the continued law suites that fail. I am also contacting congress and senate to enact a law that if a law suite is brough forward and is considered frivilous that who ever brought the law suite should be charged any and all cost associated with the law suite and a fine of $250. — Troy Cummings, Virginia
Suggestion: Madison, Wi., one of the known marxist cities in the USA! It is a sad thing to witness the USA sinking into an ABYSS of touchy-feely diversity, ultaliberalism, political correctness, socialism, and Saul Alinsky Marxism. — Doc H
Attacking Christiananity: You Bastards, I hope God has mercy on your souls. — Robert Guccione
Your thought process: Your belief in nothing is still a belief. I find your organization pushing your agenda is upsetting to me and I do not like it. I will now be a minority voice trying to desolve your organization. — Leo Bauer
Seminole High football team: I am a supporter of the constitution. And I agree that there should be no establishment by government. But to build bridges, you have to have humidity, and be able to say, “I was wrong”. — Courtney Campbell
Thoughts on freedom from all religion: What about the muslim that prays out in public, or in state parks. What about the Jews who wear a yamaka? Is it that you only attack Christianity because you think that Christians are meek? If that’s what you think then clearly you need to brush up on your history. — Joe Craig, Branson, Mo.
Quit Your Sniveling: I would bet that the overwhelming majority of your members are new to being atheists. I’m sure they were unaware of what it even meant until they heard about it, while standing in line waiting to vote for Obama. They couldn’t wait to get home and try it for themselves. So, they sent you $5.00 and left for work the next day wearing a T-shirt proclaiming themselves an atheist. The problem with these people, is that in 12 months when all their fake facebook friends start saying Christianity is the new trend, they will rush out of their homes to beat the door down at their local church to donate $5.00 and get their “I’m a Christian” T-shirt. At which point your “foundation” will crumble and you’ll have to go find a real job. — James Briskey, San Antonio
satan’s immisary’s: I see you morons are conspiring against church’s with the gestapo gov’t agency? will hell be hot enough for you kretins? I pity your soul’s on judgment day! — aaarocket37
Your So Called Victories: What you call significant legal victories are nothing but effective blackmail techniques. Your fear mongering and threats in my mind seem very similar to those of Nazi Germany. All employees of my company pray before each and every day - that will not end. If an employee doesn’t like it - they know where the door is. — Michael Moran
ass holes: The pendulum will swing back the other way ass holes and i hope it will take you`r heads off when it dose. Try to tell me what i can and can not do and see how long you breath! — Carl Thurston, Texas
IRS Lawsuit: You want the IRS one or the most corrupt govt. ageencies to spy on churches. I am 68 years old and the older I get the more I fear for My Grand Children. Shame on you. The American is getting Pissed WATCH OUT. — Thomas Kimble, West Palm Beach., Fla.
It is freedom OF religion: Our assigned technicians have breached your email accounts. Our investigators have identified your family members. Our firm is a GSA contractor of the US Federal Government (GSA 6HNDN4) and have published the identities of your recorded conditions and the identities of your immediate family members, including all relevant personal data including addresses, social security numbers, and related family members above the age of 13. Good luck with that! — Jonathan Hawfield, Houston
Fallon received $400 from FFRF for her essay.
By Fallon Rowe
I grew up without religion. In Idaho schools, this made me fairly unique, and I struggled throughout my education, walking on eggshells around my many Mormon friends.
In elementary school, a friend asked me if I believed in “God.” After a few moments of thought, I replied negatively, explaining the lack of importance of such a word in my life. That friend was quickly transformed into an enemy, presumably because her parents had indoctrinated her to be unfriendly with those who lack religion. I didn’t let it bother me, but I’ll never forget that encounter.
As I transitioned into high school and attained a higher level of thinking, I began to analyze my own beliefs. I see how religion can corrupt and brainwash people, especially children who are so impressionable. I see smart, caring students turn ugly and rude when they find out I’m “that atheist girl.”
I have to be extra confident of my nonbelief in order to hold my own against the zealots I face in my school and community every day. Sometimes I wonder if my peers would discriminate against me less if I were a racist rather than an atheist. It scares me that they think I’m evil or heartless simply because I disagree with religion. I am lucky to have found a few accepting and freethinking friends in high school, but we are among the minority.
At Girl Scout camp when I was younger, I was the only one who absolutely refused to pray before every meal. Although the organization is not religiously affiliated, the counselors tried to force us to pray. In school, I continue to leave out “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I fight for the separation of church and state at every opportunity.
In my advanced placement government class, a peer claimed there would be no peace iuntil Jesus walked the Earth again. No one protests these outbursts besides me, and I always get many negative glares for speaking up for secularism. In AP literature, I steadfastly voice my opinions on nonreligion and the importance of the wall of separation. I stand alone in these classrooms as the lone representative of freethought.
Recently in my community, a student’s religious grandparent challenged a book in my school, and it resulted in the removal of the book from the curriculum at every school in the district. Along with over 300 of my peers, I signed a petition to keep the book in the curriculum, but our efforts were in vain.
Despite this, hundreds of copies were distributed for free in my community because of a fundraiser, and it awakened people to the evils of censorship. One of the main reasons the book was challenged was because it was called “anti-Christian.” This upset me since my school is public, and religion should have no influence on my education. It intrigues me that some Christians are blatantly against the book, and some have no problem with it and have even rallied behind the anti-censorship efforts.
This helps me see that Christians can’t be grouped together entirely as being completely closed-minded or unresponsive to change, just like atheists shouldn’t collectively be viewed as radical or dangerous.
I care deeply about separation of church and state, especially in schools, because I don’t want other students to have to face similar challenges. I do not need religion or a deity to be a good person. I do not need a holy book to outline my morals, or a priest to tell me women are inferior and ignorance is acceptable. I do not need childish tales from long ago to guide me through life and give me hope.
I need people — good, caring, intelligent people — who act from the heart of humanity and the brain of science. I need logic and freethought to help me escape from the chains of silent atheism and solve the problems we face as human beings.
Fallon Rowe, 17, Meridian, Idaho, will be attending Utah State University to major in environmental geoscience and minor in journalism. Her interests include rock climbing, traveling, mountaineering and writing. She’s a member of FFRF and the Secular Student Alliance.
Kali received a $500 scholarship from FFRF.
By Kali Richardson
“I took the [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost
Do you remember the first time you took the less-traveled road? You started asking questions that didn’t have answers, around age 8 for Catholic kids. “How do we know God is real?”
Wednesday night youth groups suddenly turned dark, because an inquisitive, skeptical child is not welcome around adults who have devoted their lives to delusion. Do you remember when your mom had to write you a note just so you could check out Harry Potter from the elementary library? Even as a 6-year-old, you thought that was ridiculous.
Perhaps it was just the Catholics who didn’t have answers; somewhere inside of you a hope grew that maybe you were wrong, and maybe there was an omnipotent Father out there to save you from the monsters under your bed.
So off you went at age 11 to a multitude of Baptist summer camps that were thrilled to have saved a child from what they saw as a competing religion. Your mother was not pleased. But hey, this is Arkansas. This is Baptist country. (You thought, if it were about saving your soul, wouldn’t she be OK with belonging to any religion?)
A year later you were in sixth grade, going through that emo phase that all of your generation participated in at one point or another, and everything changed. You came out in more than one way, and didn’t know which was worse in that small town — to be gay, or to be an atheist?
At that point the road wasn’t just less traveled by; it had thorns and chiggers and every once in a while, snakes. You didn’t believe in the small town or its religion and it didn’t believe in you.
“It’s just a phase,” they said.
But it wasn’t just a phase, and in sophomore year you stopped standing up for the pledge. The verbal feedback was amazing. “Do you hate the people who died for our country?” When the words “under God” were discovered to be the cause, it got worse. “Do you hate religion? Are you an atheist?”
Some of your classmates in sophomore biology decided to shout the pledge as if to prove the subtle point that you cannot escape. Your teacher started your unit on evolution with the words, “I know most of us don’t believe we came from monkeys, but the school requires me to teach this, so . . .”
Do you remember weighing the pros and cons of challenging that ignorant statement in your head? Social scorn for a few days, or making what is right known? You were tired of being hated, but corrected the teacher regardless.
Do you remember when someone challenged the Friday night pre-football “prayer over the loudspeaker” tradition? There had already been a Supreme Court ruling, but you didn’t know that. Your school, knowing full well how illegal their activities were, stopped the prayers. The entire school thought it was ridiculous and unfair, but you were secretly happy to not have to pretend to pray.
You pointed out a few times that it was, technically, state-funded religion, but no one else viewed it as that. Everyone seemed to say, “It’s a tradition. It’s our life. Who are you to try to change that?”
You have taken the road less traveled, and it has made all the difference. It gave you the fuel to move to another state your senior year. Being isolated all those years for being an atheist makes leaving pretty easy, doesn’t it? It piqued your interest in stem cells, which led to your pursuit of a science major.
And while you will always cringe when someone invites you to a youth group, you’ll be more than thankful that it’s happening in a different sphere of society than your school. Don’t give up, and always be a skeptic. It’s gotten you to where you are.
Kali writes: “I am 18. My hometown is Batesville, Ark., but I moved after my life was turned upside down during junior year. My parents divorced, I developed a major blood clot while attending the Naval Academy Summer Seminar 2013 and my mother remarried. I now live with her in Tucson, Ariz. I will be attending the University of Arizona in the fall and plan to major in biology with an emphasis in biomedical sciences.”
Harrison received a $750 scholarship from FFRF.
By Harrison Horwitz
This is the story of how I became a devoted atheist, an impassioned heretic and an optimistic realist.
My first encounter with religion came in early childhood. I was born to a single mother of Jewish heritage who was very proud of her faith and traditions. She was murdered when I was 5.
As a young boy, I was told that God worked for the greater good of humankind. In my innocence and naiveté, I could not conceive why God would take everything I had from me and leave me with absolutely nothing. It was then that I first had the notion that there is no higher power driving humanity toward good. Rather, we are truly left to our own devices.
I looked into the heart of religion and witnessed its dark, repressive side. Shortly after my mother’s death, I was adopted by my great uncle and moved to a rural, impoverished and devoutly religious town in central California. Caliente was a town of Republicans, guns and the good Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: the holy trinity.
What Caliente residents lacked in education, they made up for in their unchallenged faith in God and Jesus. Their clergy encouraged them to loathe homosexuals, look down on blacks and immigrants and treat women like personal property.
While my adoptive parents did not force religion on me, they certainly believed in a divine being. All great things that occurred were because “He made it so.” As I became more aware of the small-minded mentality of Caliente, I pieced together parts of the puzzle. I witnessed sleazy politicians using fear-based religious platforms to win elections, while ignorant and misguided people followed them as though they were The Second Coming.
When I moved back to Los Angeles, I saw the movie “Jesus Camp” in my sociology class. Most of the students were shocked to see religion being shoved down the throats of the young and impressionable, but I had already been through my own version of “Jesus Camp.”
My high school years put everything I encountered in my early life into perspective. In pursuit of a better education with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, I pegged religion for what it is: a tool for oppression that has controlled people for thousands of years.
Leaders who have the right mix of charisma, power and ego use religion to manipulate most of the population. That may sound harsh, but the suppression of hard truths has allowed the outdated institution of religion to run rampant.
I have questioned organized religion since middle school. Then, my resistance only went so far as to inquire, “How do you know there is a God?” or “How could that which goes against proven science be right?”
Even when spoken from a sixth-grader’s mouth, these are dangerous questions for religion. Since then, my knowledge and understanding of religion’s grasp on society has grown exponentially. Now, I actively debate the topic in and out of the classroom. Fact-based science and creationism are incongruent. Religion has no place in the educational system.
My intention is not to sound contentious or judgmental. My beef is not with the children of “Jesus Camp” who were born into religion. My issue is with the institution of religion, the camp and its leaders, that prey on ignorant and vulnerable people.
Education should be based on rational thought and supported by facts, not on fables and bedtime stories. I dream of a world in which people want to discover answers, not one in which people pretend to already have them.
Harrison was born Nov. 19, 1996, in Los Angeles. After seven years he moved to Caliente for four years and then back to L.A. He’s attending the University of California-Berkeley to major in biology and minor in political science.
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
FFRF President emerita
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.
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.
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, 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.
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, assistant webmaster & communications coordianator. She was born in Wausau, Wis. 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.
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.
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.
Executive Board of Directors
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.
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.”
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, 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.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
- Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
- Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
- Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
- 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!”
- 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.”