The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters of complaint March 7 to public school districts in Orange and Seminole counties and to the mayor of Casselberry, Fla., about government entanglement with a Christian congregation called The Venue Church.
FFRF, a state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., has about 20,000 members and 950 in Florida. FFRF has been fighting other religious intrusions for some time in the Orange County district and filed a lawsuit in June 2013 in U.S. District Court against the Orange County School Board.
In that lawsuit, FFRF and its chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, allege that distribution of freethought materials was censored while distribution of the bible and other Christian literature was unfettered.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel detailed allegations in FFRF's letter to Diego “Woody” Rodriguez, Orange County Schools general counsel. They include:
— Rampant religious activity at Apopka High School, including weekly services and other events sponsored by The Venue Church. “We are permanently planting churches in Central Florida Schools,” the church asserts.
— Regular prayer sessions attended by football coaches and players, including prayers led by Venue Church Pastor Todd Lamphere, who is also team chaplain. Lamphere is also "bowling team chaplain." A video shows him and other adults praying with the team.
— Bible verses on signs and apparel are common. A large banner saying “Prepare for Glory, 2 Corinthians 4:17” was displayed at the football field as was another banner with a verse from John 15:13. Several T-shirts and jerseys combine the school logo with religious messages.
— Highlight reels of Apopka and other district football teams posted on YouTube sometimes include Christian music in the background. "If the district is contracting with AH Media to produce this content, or providing special access to this company to shoot video of district games, the content must be neutral toward religion," Seidel wrote.
FFRF also filed open records requests with both districts March 7 that ask for:
— Applications and contracts between schools and the church regarding use of district facilities.
— Proof of the church's liability insurance coverage and payment for facility use, including rental rate schedules.
— All email correspondence between any district staff and Pastors Todd Lamphere, Brian Pikalow, Andy Searles, and Vickie Martin, Chris Burns, Jerry Martin, and/or any other church employee.
— Contracts with AH Media.
— Any official or unofficial policies on ownership and wearing of uniforms for any Apopka High School choral group and the football team.
In FFRF's letter to Rodriguez, Seidel said it's "inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district to offer a Christian minister unique access to befriend and proselytize student athletes. Accordingly, public high school football teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain, because public schools may not advance or promote religion."
It also appears that Lamphere led a mission trip for football coaches and players last summer. "Nonschool persons cannot be allowed to treat the school as a recruiting ground for their religious mission," Seidel added.
"It is very clear that a religious atmosphere has been directed and cultivated in the school district. No doubt some of these problems arise because of the school’s unconstitutional relationship with Pastor Todd Lamphere and The Venue Church. We intend to address that relationship and other issues further after our open records request has been fulfilled."
Seidel detailed several more constitutional issues in FFRF's March 7 letter to Ned Julian, Seminole County School Board attorney involving The Venue Church with Lake Brantley High School and South Seminole Middle School.
— Public endorsement of the church by district officials, including board Chairperson Karen Almond and South Seminole Principal Mia Coleman-Baker, who both appeared in a promotional video for the church and used their titles. The video appears to have been shot on campus.
— The Church published a note from Brian Shafer, Lake Brantley dean of students, to Pastor Brian Pikalow in which he stated that “my prayer is for the Venue Church @ Lake Brantley to continue prospering and grow and reach the community for Jesus Christ.”
— Special access was apparently given to pastors to district activities and to pray with South Seminole teachers at school.
— Lake Brantley Fellowship of Christian Athletes Twitter messages indicate club formation and activities were coordinated with the church, a violation of the federal Equal Access Act, which states school clubs are “voluntary and student-initiated” and that “nonschool persons may not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend activities of student groups.”
— District promotion of staff participation in two religion-based physical fitness programs founded by Pastor Lamphere. The church is believed to have paid for some school staff to enroll.
— Rental by Greater Life Church of space at Lawton Chiles Middle School in Oviedo, where an ad for the church is posted on a school fence "24/7" and not just when services are being held.
— Lamphere’s biography states he was chaplain of the Lyman High School and Lake Howell High School football teams. "Public high school athletic teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain, because public schools may not advance or promote religion," Seidel wrote.
In his letter to Casselberry Mayor Charlene Glancy, Seidel criticized Glancy's appearance in a promotional video for The Venue Church in which she was identified as mayor of Casselberry (an Orlando suburb). In the video she says:
"[W]hat I’m very excited about is that Venue is located in the heart and soul of the Casselberry community, at our middle school. I believe that this is going to be an opportunity to bless people, to help the hurting, but also for people to grow and to see this community flourish as a result of all the great things that could happen in this church called The Venue."
Seidel wrote, "Your active promotion of The Venue Church in your official capacity unabashedly promotes a particular church and its worldview, sending an official message of endorsement of religion over nonreligion and of exclusion of many of your constituents.
FFRF told Glancy it's an "inappropriate usurpation" of her office for her to use her title to promote any church, in particular The Venue Church. "As an elected official, you should condemn an organization that perpetuates constitutional violations, not publicly invite your citizens to join it."
By Andrew L. Seidel
Staff Attorney Freedom
From Religion Foundation
Louisiana State Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, has introduced legislation that would make the official state book of Louisiana one that advocates slavery, racism, misogyny, genocide, murder and human sacrifice. That book "shall be the Holy Bible," according to the new bill.
Carmody is the second religious right-winger in as many weeks to tout the bible. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor recently took Tony Perkins, who heads the Family research council (a hate group) to bible school. Perkins erroneously claimed that instructions to beat children, kill homosexuals, atheists and infidels, and to subjugate women are not in the bible. Barker and Gaylor bible-slapped Perkins, pointing out countless barbaric passages and principles espoused in the book Perkins claims to know but has apparently never read.
Rep. Carmody ought to read FFRF's analysis, or the more extended analyses contained in Barker's books (Godless, Losing Faith in Faith, and The Good Atheist or Gaylor's book on biblical sexism, Woe to the Women: the Bible Tells Me So. Had he done so, this blog could have been avoided.
I cannot help but wonder why Rep. Carmody, if he has read the bible, is so eager to have the state officially endorse it. The book calls for the death of more than 19% of all adult Americans. Some 60 million Americans and 900,000 Louisianans are not affiliated with any religion, yet Carmody wants to endorse a book that says "whoever does not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman." 2 Chronicles 15:13. A lovely message for any state government to endorse—in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia, but somewhat out of place here in the free world.
The bible also demands that you murder anyone, including a family member, who might try to get you to expand your religious horizons:
If anyone secretly entices you — even if it is your brother, your father's son or your mother's son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend — saying, "Let us go worship other gods," . . . you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God... Deuteronomy 13:6-10
When the Israelites intermarry with the Moabites, another tribe or race, God orders Moses to "Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the LORD, in order that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel." Racism and human sacrifice in one passage. There are plenty of lovely tales of human sacrifice in the bible: Jephthah sacrificing his daughter to god, Abraham's willingness to blindly murder his child for god, and god murdering his own son/himself in order to appease himself.
Perhaps these are the family values Rep. Carmody thinks most Louisianans respect: murdering your sons, daughters, wife, or most intimate friend because they believe in a different god? But I lived in Louisiana for seven years and cannot recall any of my neighbors exercising these "positive" values.
This legislation does not just endorse the bible generally, but the specific bible of a specific religion — a 1523 Latin Bible — which FFRF's biblical scholars take to mean that Vulgate translation. Pope Damascus I commissioned the Vulgate translation and it was/is the official bible of the Roman Catholic Church. Do the other Christians in the Louisiana legislature know that Carmody is trying to promote Catholicism over other branches of Christianity? Does Carmody?
Then again, maybe Carmody is not ignorant of the sectarian nature of this particular version of the bible. Maybe he is deliberately endorsing Catholicism. After all, Mardi Gras, a Louisiana institution, has its roots in Catholicism. Nothing says Catholicism like flashy costumes, gaudy jewelry, booze (or blood, if you believe in magic), and gross attempts to use the power of the state to impose your religion on everyone else — Carmody's latest bill continues that coercive tradition.
This proposal is unconstitutional on its face and should be opposed by every citizen who cherishes the freedoms protected by our First Amendment.
By Sam Grover
Freedom From Religion Foundation
"And God said unto Noah, seek out a $62 million municipal bond offering."
Genesis 6:14-21 describes the instructions given by God to Noah to build an ark and stock it with food and animals before the great flood. While not quite up to Ikea assembly manual standards, God was still quite specific about the end goal: Make the ark 300 by 50 by 30 cubits in dimension, coat the ark with pitch, make sure you put a door on the side, and fill it with two of every animal. Unfortunately, God left out the specifics of how Noah was supposed to achieve this great task and the bible authors, as they tend to do, just skip that part of the story. All we are told is that Noah went ahead and pulled it off. How very unsatisfying.
One might assume that if God thought it necessary to remind Noah that the ark needed a door, he would also have spent at least a little time explaining to Noah how to finance this endeavor... but no. Now, however, thanks to Ken Ham and the young earth creationists at Answers in Genesis, we can finally begin to fill in those pesky biblical gaps!
After a recent media boost from Ham's highly publicized debate with Bill Nye "the Science Guy" (a personal childhood hero of mine), Answers in Genesis now claims to have the necessary capital for groundbreaking on its newest project: construction of a 510-foot replica of Noah's ark. The ark is designed as the centerpiece of an 800-acre theme park estimated to cost $120-150 million to build. In 2011, shortly after the project was first announced, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority promised up to $43.1 million in sales tax rebates over 10 years to help offset the initial costs of construction. The ark-building phase of the project has also been funded in part through a $62 million municipal bond offering.
While the final ark replica is no doubt designed to demonstrate the plausibility of the underlying biblical story, Ken Ham's saga in trying to fund his latest pet project may have unintentionally had the opposite effect. Skeptics now have a whole new set of questions to ask biblical literalists, based on the struggles that Answers in Genesis has experienced in trying to achieve what Noah seemingly accomplished without incident.
Where did Noah get the $24.5 million needed to fund his project? (That's AiG's estimated cost of building its ark). Moreover, how did Noah and his seven family members secure the necessary finances in a timely manner, given that it has taken over three years for AiG, with all of its media capital and state support, to meet its minimum financing goal? And if Noah could build his ark without the help of the Kentucky government, why can't Ham?
Now that groundbreaking has been announced, the next question that AiG will help to answer is how long it took a 600-year-old Noah, his wife, three sons, and three daughters-in-law to construct the ark without the benefit of modern-day tools or construction equipment. I'm sure that AiG will stay true to the biblical narrative by avoiding the use of these implements, right?
FFRF considers the issuance of government bonds to support a religiously-fueled project inappropriate and constitutionally suspect. We are continuing to follow this debacle with rapt attention in order to evaluate all of the funding issues and any potential ways in which they may be challengeable. Meanwhile, this is one project that's sure to provide leagues more entertainment, whether it sinks or not.
“If the concept of God has any validity or use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of him.” –James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
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.”