Click on thumbnail to see high-resolution images.
The nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics this morning is placing a patriotic red-white-and-blue secular display to counter a large Catholic Easter display at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago that will be hard to miss.
Two colorful 8-foot banners on a 12-foot structure promoting the secular views of founding fathers will be placed by noon in Daley Plaza by the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and its FFRF Metropolitan Chicago chapter. Three FFRF staff attorneys — Patrick Elliott, Andrew Seidel and Sam Grover — have driven to Chicago from Madison to install the display with chapter help on a wooden structure they built for the back-to-back banners.
One banner reads: “In Reason We Trust,” and pictures Thomas Jefferson, displaying his famous advice to a nephew, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” The other side proclaims, “Keep State & Religion Separate,” and pictures President John Adams, who signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which assured “. . . the government of the United States is not in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. . .”
The FFRF display is designed to counter nine days of round-the-clock prayer and evangelism in Daley Plaza by the Thomas More Society, a Catholic group, which has evangelized in the plaza every Easter since 2011. The group’s aim, through its “Divine Mercy Project,” is to seek the “conversion of Chicago, America and the Whole World.”
The Catholic society is expected to place a 10-foot-tall painting of Jesus on Friday, which it claims was miraculously inspired, with the statement “Jesus, I trust in you.” The painting is accompanied by a 14-foot cross on the public plaza. In past years, Catholic supporters have also held 24-hour prayer vigils, distributed thousands of prayer cards and hosted anti-abortion rallies in front of the Jesus painting.
Rather than place such displays on church grounds, the Thomas More Society explicitly seeks to take over public property for its purposes, claiming that at Daley Plaza it encounters “militants, feminists, Satanists, radical Muslims, just about everybody.”
FFRF additionally has two smaller posters affixed to each side of its display, explaining its purpose, written by Tom Cara, Chicago chapter director: “Not looking to convert? Neither are we,” protesting use of government property to endorse the beliefs of a specific religious group. Another poster questions the “divine mercy” of the bible upon which Catholicism is predicated.
FFRF thanks Patrick Elliott, Andrew Seidel and Sam Grover for “yeoman” work in fashioning the display, and Tom Cara and other volunteers with its active Chicago chapter.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting the illegal closure of the public utility in Sun Prairie, Wis., in observance of Good Friday, and the inappropriate use of religious iconography (a crown of thorns) on Sun Prairie Utilities’ website.
Within an hour of receiving a letter of complaint April 16 from FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, SPU removed the “crown of thorns” imagery but retained its announcement that the office would close Friday for the Christian religious observance.
Markert informed Utility Manager Rick Wicklund that as a municipally owned corporation, SPU is in violation of a federal court ruling won by FFRF in 1996. The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Shabaz in FFRF v. Thompson overturned a law declaring Good Friday a state holiday because it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The law mandated the closure of public offices in the afternoon and required citizens to worship.
The court concluded, “The language of Wisconsin's Good Friday holiday law and its undisputed effect of favoring Christianity over other religions leads overwhelmingly to the conclusion that promotion of Christianity is the primary purpose of the law. Defendants’ weak efforts to suggest that Good Friday has become secularized or that Wisconsin has other business reasons for adopting it as a holiday are insufficient as a matter of law to support a finding that the purpose and effect of the statute has changed significantly since its enactment.”
FFRF’s letter added, “As a matter of policy, SPU should remain open on Good Friday and provide regular services to Sun Prairie citizens. SPU likely does not close its offices for Yom Kippur, Ramadan or any other non-Christian religious holidays. Therefore, SPU should not close its doors for a day commemorated only by Christians.”
FFRF sought assurances the practice will cease immediately.
“We should not still have to be mopping up 18 years after a conclusive victory in federal court,” commented FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, an original plaintiff along with several state employees, against Gov. Tommy Thompson in the 1996 case.
“Local officials need to be cognizant of what the law is and observe it instead of an exclusionary religious event,” Gaylor said.
Freedom From Religion Foundation member Douglas Marshall, who previously sued the city of Warren, Mich., when it censored his attempt to place a freethought winter solstice sign in its city atrium, has been censored again by Warren Mayor James R. Fouts.
Marshall sought a permit to place a table in the atrium of city hall on Thursday, May 1, the date of the federally-proclaimed National Day of Prayer. A “Prayer Station” has been setting up shop for years in this same city atrium with city approval.
Fouts turned down Marshall’s request in an April 15 letter, writing: “All of these events are allowed because of the right to freedom of religion constitutional amendment [sic]. We cannot and will not restrict this right for any religion to use the atrium, as long as the activity is open to all religions.
“To my way of thinking, your group is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion. The City of Warren cannot allow this.”
Fouts’ refusal is a legal “smoking gun,” showing outright government censorship of freethought and government endorsement of religion, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-directs the Madison, Wis.-baesd FFRF, the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics and a state/church watchdog.
“It is an axiom of U.S. law that if the government creates a public forum, it may not discriminate, or favor religious messages over nonreligious messages,” she noted.
When Fouts allowed a nativity display, but censored FFRF’s sign critical of religion — which he called “highly offensive,” FFRF and Marshall challenged Fouts, filing a federal suit in December 2011. The lawsuit, which included both a free speech and Establishment Clause claim, was lost at the Sixth Circuit in February 2013.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted that a challenge of the most recent censorship could proceed solely as a free speech case.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is leaving on display — as evidence of the divisiveness of religion in government — its mutilated sign saying “Nobody died for our sins,” which was vandalized by a fanatic before noon today in the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.
A man wrested FFRF’s foamboard sign, which was securely taped to an easel, and violently mangled it in front of passersby. Capitol security was quickly summoned and gave chase, but the vandal got away.
FFRF has affixed a new statement on top of the mangled sign, which is still legible:
Why is this sign so mutilated?
Somebody, presumably somebody who disagreed with our message, tried to destroy our sign. Apparently, this person believes the Capitol is a public forum for Christianity only.
If you don’t think religious messages should be displayed on government property, join the club! We don’t think they should be, either. But as long as religious groups use the Capitol to proselytize, FFRF has a right to respond to their message.
Religion is divisive. It belongs in churches, not the State Capitol. Keep religion out of government.
FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION
FFRF had sought and received a permit to display its message, "Nobody died for our sins. Jesus Christ is a myth,” in response to “Concerned Women for America’s” Easter display, which includes a cross on a table with religious and antiabortion literature and misinformation about birth control. FFRF has made an open records request for a copy of surveillance tapes.
“This crime, seeking to suppress dissent, is a lesson in the danger of injecting religion into the seat of state government,” Gaylor added. “We strongly object to CWA placing a cross in the rotunda — a symbol of the dominant religion and increasingly a symbol of political intimidation today. But if religious symbols and imagery are permitted, then there must be room for dissent.” F
FRF thanks its staffers Jackie Douglas, Andrew Seidel, Patrick Elliott, Lauryn Seering and Dayna Long for help producing, displaying, and protecting its Capitol sign.
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 the Foundation. His newest book, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, was published by Ullysses Press in January, 2011. His previous book, the autobiographical Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, was published in 2008. 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 the Foundation's musical cassettes, "My Thoughts Are Free," "Reason's Greetings," "Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now," a 2-CD album "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," and the CD "Beware of Dogma." He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004.
Annie Laurie was also editor of Freethought Today from 1984 to 2009, when she became executive editor. The paper is published 10 times a year. Her book, Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published in 1981, is now in its 4th printing. In 1988, the Foundation published her book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 book, 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 UW-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 joined the Foundation staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. She co-founded the original FFRF with Anne Gaylor (see below) as a college student. Photo: Timothy Hughes
FFRF President emerita
ANNE NICOL GAYLOR is a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and is now working as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she is 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 has done 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. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as two 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.
KATIE DANIEL is the bookkeeper/executive assistant/staff baker at FFRF. She was born in California and has lived in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri. She moved to Madison in 2005 to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2009 with a BA in Gender & Women's Studies and a Certificate in LGBT Studies. She joined the foundation staff as a student clerical employee in September 2008 and started as the full-time bookkeeper in 2009. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.
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 is the publicist & assistant editor at FFRF. She was born in Wausau, Wisconsin and has also lived in Nagasaki, Japan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2012 with her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication and International Studies. She also received a double minor in Journalism and English. Lauryn moved to Madison in January 2013 and enjoys reading about astrophysics, basking in the sun like a turtle and creating art at coffee shops. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian.
PHYLLIS ROSE is a retired library administrator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been volunteering 3 afternoons a week at the FFRF office since 2000. A Lifetime Member, Phyllis provides oversight, clerical and editorial support. Phyllis serves as an officer on the Foundation's governing body.
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.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
- 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.”