By Lee Salisbury
Suppose there was a penniless, homeless man begging for money. Then a wealthy person, knowing the poor man's condition, sold everything he owned and gave it all to the beggar.
Wouldn't we all say, "Wow! What a sacrifice!"? Doesn't such a sacrifice bring tears to our eyes?
However, what if the rich man made an arrangement before he sold all his assets? The rich man, being of considerable influence, coerced his friend who runs the lottery to rig it so that the rich man would win. And, indeed, the rich man won the $500 million lottery.
Now, knowing the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, what do you think of the rich man's sacrifice? Do you really think he would have sacrificed all his wealth without the foreknowledge that guaranteed his lottery winnings? Should he be venerated and admired for his sacrifice so another could be rich? Was his act really a genuine sacrifice, or was it just a clever ploy to capture our admiration and praise while winning the greater prize of $500 million?
Have you ever heard of any other sacrifice story that parallels this quality of sacrifice? Of course you have!
We've all read or heard the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his death on the cross, sacrificing himself for all the sinners of the world. Jesus walked throughout Judea doing good, healing the sick and casting out demons, and so the jealous scribes and Pharisees connived a scheme against Jesus. He was brought before the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate, who held a phony trial based on trumped-up charges. Jesus was spat upon, whipped and beaten. A crown of thorns was impaled upon his head. The ungrateful Jews yelled "Crucify him, crucify him!" They brutally nailed Jesus to a cross. As he hung there, a spear was thrust into his ribs. They gave Jesus vinegar and mocked him. Finally, Jesus died.
Again, we'd be prone to say, "Wow! What a sacrifice!" But was this really a genuine sacrifice, or was there some behind-the-scenes manipulation whereby Jesus not only had foreknowledge of his crucifixion and death, but was guaranteed a resurrection and ascension to heaven? Jesus must have thought so, because he, along with numerous scriptures, foretold these events well in advance.
For example, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus "began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31). Jesus foretold these events on several occasions!
This Messianic prophesy — "For thou will not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither will thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption" (Psalm 16:10) — clearly meant Jesus would not "see corruption" (i. e., not die with the same consequence as a normal human).
Revelation 13:8 speaks of Jesus as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." According to the supposedly inerrant word of God, Jesus' death was planned by the Godhead's Trinity Committee "before the foundation of the world."
Such a deal! Who wouldn't accept a few hours of pain and suffering in exchange for the promised resurrection to rule and reign for eternity at God's right hand? Jesus' reward makes the rich man's $500 million lottery winnings look like chump change.
If Jesus' sacrifice as the Lamb of God had been a genuine sacrifice, wouldn't he have experienced permanent death like the sacrificial lambs that foreshadowed him? Wouldn't he have died and gone to hell for eternity, just like the sinners for whom he was the sacrifice?
Sacrifice? What sacrifice? Jesus did not meet any requirements for a genuine substitutionary sacrifice.
Even assuming the bible is the inerrant word of God and the Jesus story is historically factual, Jesus did not sacrifice his life. Instead, Jesus selfishly kept his life, side-stepping the corruption of hell and permanent death. The morning after the crucifixion, the bible says the grave was empty. What happened to "after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31)? Jesus' time being dead was amazingly brief, maybe a couple of hours. After some appearances with his disciples, on the Day of Pentecost, he ascended to heaven. As in the earlier story, Jesus' alleged sacrifice won him the lottery exactly as planned and was guaranteed well in advance by the omnipotent triune God, of which Jesus was a divine member.
There is no dispute that Jesus' sacrificial crucifixion is the centerpiece of Christian theology. That story is so sacred to believers, one dares not question its validity. Unfortunately, those so desperate for an imagined life after death cannot reason sufficiently to ask the most fundamental question: Apart from a couple of painful hours on Friday, did Jesus really sacrifice anything?
Like Jesus' failed second coming, Christianity's theological centerpiece is simply and demonstratively false. It might more accurately be called the "sacrificial cruci-fiction." As in every religion, Christianity's savior-god and the promise of life after death is devoid of integrity. Its success depends solely on human fear and gullibility that we humans sadly possess in great abundance.
For 20 years, FFRF member Lee Salisbury was a fervent Christian, spending four years as a bible school teacher and 10 years as founding pastor of a non-denominational church in St. Paul, Minn. After taking a sabbatical in 1986, Lee's slow and painful deconversion process began.
Name: Douglas Schiebel.
Where I live: Port Ludlow, Wash.
Family: Married 54 years to Carolyn. We have two adult children and three grandkids.
Education: Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
Occupation: Clinical psychologist.
Military: Civilian guard, U.S. Army, Germany.
How I got where I am today: I was born in a rural hamlet in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and grew up during the Nazi era in Germany. I entered grade school in the provincial town of Sonthofen and went on to pass the high school "Abitur" examination in Oberstdorf, the southern terminus of the country's railway system. Commuting there involved the train making unscheduled stops in wooded areas to hide from strafing runs by marauding Allied planes during the war.
I went to work as a paramilitary civilian guard for the U.S. Army after high school graduation, prior to immigrating to the United States. I have been here since.
My religious indoctrination began with the Roman Catholic baptism customary in my native region, including a stint as an altar boy. I knew the Latin Mass with its repetitive "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" by heart. I grew tired of its drumbeat of guilt induction before too long, however, and decided to skip out on the mandatory periodic "cleansing" of my soul in front of unctuous priests in the confessional booth. I was on my way to becoming a secular humanist. I decided that morality is best viewed as a matter of avoiding harm to others (or oneself), rather than obeisance to the dictates of a possibly sadistic deity.
While remaining true to my humanistic convictions, I must allow that I had a brief lapse into wishful thinking in the context of the civil rights movement and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cold War. I entertained the hope that belief in a loving god, whether valid or not, might persuade people to treat each other more kindly and to avoid incinerating the whole world in a conflagration of mutual assured destruction. The shrill advent of the evangelical Religious Right a few years later promptly extinguished this budding fantasy in my mind.
Where I am headed: To oblivion upon my death. But I will savor my remaining time on Earth with all the gusto and intellectual excitement I am capable of.
Person in history I admire: Martin Luther King Jr., for establishing nonviolent resistance to evil as an effective tool for social change.
Quotation I like: Richard Dawkins (paraphrased): We who are fated to die are the lucky ones, considering the myriad of potential human beings who were never born to see the world.
These are a few of my favorite things: Balmy summer days in the Pacific Northwest. Visiting national park lodges. Strolling on an ocean beach. Hot (and cold) running water.
These are not: Empty ritual, especially of a religious type. Belligerent nationalism. Moralism.
My doubts about religion started: When I heard about the medieval tortures of the Inquisition and the burning of live human beings at the stake "to save their souls."
Before I die: I would like to see the freethought movement continue to decimate the religious mindset.
Ways I promote freethought: I take my atheism out of the closet in front of family and friends.
By PJ Slinger
Justin Scott is making a name for himself among freethinkers and presidential candidates alike.
Scott, an FFRF member from Manchester, Iowa, has been able to ask almost every presidential candidate about their thoughts on state/church separation issues or on secular values. Scott has used his camera phone to take videos of his questions and responses from the candidates, who were campaigning in Iowa prior to the Iowa caucus.
The only candidates who refused to answer Scott's questions were Donald Trump and Rand Paul. "At least The Donald signed an autograph for me, thanked me for coming, and told me to take care as he walked away from me," Scott said.
Scott's videos have been viewed millions of times via various news outlets and presidential campaign websites. In fact, his video of Marco Rubio has been viewed more than 10 million times on Rubio's site. The extensive media coverage Scott has received includes the Washington Post, Time, Fox News, ABC News, Associated Press. (View Scott's Q&As yourself at goo.gl/US0LcN. Listen to Freethought Radio's interview with Scott at ffrf.org/radio.)
"It's a very exhilarating feeling to stand in front of someone that might become the next president of the United States and, for a few minutes, have them focus entirely on a question about secular values like the separation of church and state," Scott said.
He added that when he first introduces himself to the candidate, the people in the crowd have a definite reaction.
"Usually it's the gasps, blank stares, whispers that I get when I start off the question by stating, 'Hi! I'm an atheist.' It's as if I had just opened up with, 'Hi! I'm an alien from another galaxy.'"
Scott says that even though he is a self-described "political junkie," being able to ask candidates about secular and state/church separation issues has been more than he could have hoped.
"I'm not so much surprised by the [candidates'] responses but surprised by how easy it has been to get this type of access to them as a voter," he said. "I haven't had to jump through any hurdles to get right up in the front row at each event and have just been able to raise my hand and ask whatever question I wanted."
Scott, who is also a member of the Iowa Coalition of Reason, is encouraging other freethinkers around the country to follow his lead.
Below are the responses (edited for print) by the presidential candidates from questions by Scott. (FFRF is nonpartisan and does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office.)
Here's the challenge. I'm a person of faith. And I respect the fact that you're not. And you have protections under the law just as I do.
And a big tolerant nation ought to be able to say, for example, let's take the issue of gay marriage...if you walk into a bakery and you're gay, and you say "I want to buy that cake.' A person whose faith suggests that is a sin, by law has to sell that cake. But if you walked into that same store and said 'I want you to participate in my marriage with my companion,' you ought to have the right, based on religious conscience, to say no. There's a difference. We need to sort this out.
You cannot discriminate housing, employment, retail, you can't discriminate. That's how our laws work and that's the way it should work. But people of faith ought to be able to act on their faith outside of their churches and outside of their homes. . . I worry more now, frankly, about the loss of religious freedom than I do about the other side of this. We should be respectful of both.
First of all, everybody, including atheists, live according to their faith. It's just what they decide to put their faith in. And everybody's [actions] are ruled by their faith. Now, in my case, you know, I have strong faith in God and I live by godly principles: loving your fellow man, caring about your neighbor, developing your God-given talents to the utmost so that you become valuable to the people around you... and that's going to dictate how I treat everybody. Fortunately, our Constitution, which is the supreme law of our land, was designed by men of faith. And it has a Judeo-Christian foundation. Therefore, there is no conflict there. So it is not a problem.
I believe that God is an important part of what this country is all about. But what I also know [is] that the great thing about America is everybody gets to believe what they want to believe. As long as they're not trying to impose it upon me, they can believe what they want to believe. And as long as they're not committing violent acts to try and forward their point of view, go ahead and believe what you want to believe. Teach within your family what you want to teach.
I think we've gotta stick with our founding principles, separation between church and state. And remember: It was done in the beginning mostly to protect religion from the state. So we need to stick...we need to stick with what has worked.
We're seeing our constitutional rights under assault every day, whether it's free speech, which for atheists is particularly important. Whether it's religious liberty, which atheists have a right as well to not believe. Whether it's the Second Amendment or the privacy of the 10th Amendment. I've spent my whole life fighting to defend the Bill of Rights and Constitution, and as president, every day I will defend the Bill of Rights and Constitution for every American.
You're free to believe whatever you'd like in this country. So if you're an atheist, good for you. I happen to be a Christian. I happen to believe that our Christian values help me as a leader because they make me humble and empathetic and optimistic. And I think all of those qualities are vital in leadership.
No one is coercing you in any way. However, many Christians are being coerced not to practice their religion. So religious liberty is under assault in this country. When our federal government is suing the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Supreme Court, denying them their ability to practice their religion, that's a problem.
In life, there's a window of opportunity. I happen to believe there is a higher power, and the reason I believe it is because, well, I kinda felt it as a kid. And then when my parents were killed in 1987 by a drunk driver, I think the Lord rescued me. But it only happened when somebody said 'You've got a window of opportunity because of your pain. I would suggest you go through it and check it out because eternity lasts a long time.' And so, for me, 1987 was — 13 and 16, that's 29 years ago — and I've been working at this every day.
And I'm not a believer because I need a rabbit's foot or a lucky buckeye. I believe it because I've actually looked at the evidence.
This nation was founded on the principle that our rights come from our creator. If there's no creator, then where did your rights come from? And so that's why it's important for us to understand that. We're gonna protect the right of Americans to continue to believe that. We're also gonna have a country where no one is forced to violate their conscience. Which means no one's going to force you to believe in God. But no one's gonna force me to stop talking about God.
I'm more interested in eternity, and the ability to live forever with my creator. That's what I aspire to more than anything else. I believe that God, our creator, became a man, and he came down to Earth and lived among us, suffered like a man would. Emotions. Physical suffering. Emotional suffering. Pain. Illness. Sickness. Sadness. And then he died. And he died to remove sins that we couldn't remove up to that point. They could only be covered but they couldn't be removed. And, as a result, I now have the free gift of the opportunity to live forever with my creator. And I believe that passionately, and it influences every aspect of my life.
Religious freedom in this country is part of our Constitution, and all of us agree with that. And you have many different religions, and people have the right, in this country, to practice the religion that they believe in.
But we also have a separation between religion and state. We know how dangerous it is, historically, for governments to get deeply involved with religion. Let's not confuse and merge religion and state. That is not what our Founding Fathers wanted, and they were right.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 29 that cheerleaders may continue their suit against the Kountze Independent School District over their regular practice of displaying biblical banners at football games.
The court remanded the case back to the court of appeals. Although the evangelical Liberty Institute is touting the decision, the court did not address the underlying speech claim, merely declaring that the cheerleader case was not moot.
The case began after FFRF filed a complaint with the school district in 2012 over proselytizing banners held up by the cheerleaders as football players ran through them to open games. The banners had such messages as: "But thanks be to God which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:57," and "If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31."
After the school temporarily restricted the religious banners, the cheerleaders filed suit seeking a court order that they had a right under Texas law to promote religion on banners on the football field. Then-Gov. Rick Perry also championed the cheerleaders. The school district changed course immediately and began allowing them to be displayed.
If a current student or teacher at the school sought to challenge the banners under the Establishment Clause, they, along with FFRF, could still file a separate legal challenge, offered FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She called the biblical banners "so patently inappropriate at a public school that should welcome and include everyone, including nonreligious and non-Christian students and fans."
For more than two years, FFRF has been objecting to the use of religious iconography to mark the graves of the unknown soldiers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also called the Punchbowl.
"Why are some Unknowns buried in the Punchbowl marked with the Latin cross while others are not?" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel asked in the original letter to the secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Twenty-eight months later, after about a dozen correspondences between FFRF and the military, Debra S. Wada, assistant secretary of the Army, finally responded. The Department of the Army is trying to identify unknown soldiers from WWII, and a project is under way to disinter and identify those unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma and other unknowns.
"In those cases where Unknowns are identified, the DoD will work with the DoVA, which has provided the government-furnished headstones and markers since 1973, to ensure the gravesites at NMCP or elsewhere are appropriately marked," Wada wrote.
"It's an interesting program and we applaud the military's attempt to identify these heroes," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who's been working the case for a long time.
While "The Department of the Army will not initiate any action to replace the headstones of Unknowns marked with the Latin cross in the NMCP at this time," this is progress of a kind.
Wada also claimed, "It is apparent that, over time, the Latin cross has developed a secular meaning as a commemorative symbol of sacrifice in wartime."
"Wada is absolutely wrong about the secular meaning of a Christian cross," said Seidel, "and no court would agree with her, but we are happy that some action is being take to identify and more appropriately memorialize those who sacrificed all."
On the day President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, FFRF sent a letter to the president inviting him to attend and speak at the Reason Rally on June 4 at the Lincoln Memorial.
"It is laudable for the President to embrace citizens of all colors and religious viewpoints as being part of 'one American family' and to caution citizens not to be 'bystanders to bigotry,' " wrote FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker in the letter to the president, sent out on Feb. 4. "But there is one U.S. minority that has been consistently excluded from such notice: nonreligious Americans. We respectfully invite you, in your final year in office, to do something no American president has ever done: reach out to secular America. Such attention from the Office of the President would demonstrate that freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and rationalists are accepted citizens."
"By showing up on June 4 . . . and addressing nonbelieving Americans, you can send a signal that the marginalization of a quarter of the U.S. population is unacceptable," the letter continues. "Please use your 'bully pulpit' to help erase harmful attitudes toward the nonreligious minority in the United States, as you have done for religious minorities. Please address the Reason Rally on June 4 or speak at our auditorium in Freethought Hall (our offices) any time. We look forward to your reply."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott submitted a legal memo to state Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday erroneously insisting that Christian crosses may be legally displayed on sheriffs' vehicles. The governor is interfering in a controversy resulting from the Freedom From Religion Foundation's official complaint letter about this unconstitutional practice by the Brewster County Sheriff's Office, which recently added Latin crosses to its patrol cars.
Government officials such as Abbott, and sheriffs like those in Brewster County, took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. But, apparently, they need a reminder that it is an entirely secular document. The Constitution does not recognize a god, much less the Christian one, and its only references to religion are exclusionary.
Abbott is governor of all Texas citizens, not just Christians. So it's dismaying that his brief assumes Brewster County has a Christian "heritage." Not so. Individuals may be religious, but counties have no religion. When public officials use their official capacity to promote their personal religion, they are violating the law. FFRF's complaint was not over an individual sheriff who had a personal cross around his neck, or a sheriff placing a cross on a personal vehicle, but over the department officially aligning itself and its officers with religion, in this case Christianity.
Such governmental speech and action sends a chilling message that the department itself enforces Christian doctrine, instead of civil law, and further signals that Christian citizens are the insiders, while non-Christians and nonbelievers are outsiders.
The absence of religious symbols from official sheriff vehicles would not, contrary to Abbott's claim, express "hostility to religion." Governmental neutrality is the appropriate viewpoint. A sheriff should not care about the religion of citizens or suspects, but about enforcing the law evenhandedly and protecting citizen rights.
Abbott attempts but fails to reconcile the government displaying exclusively Christian symbols on its property with the Constitution's Establishment Clause. Rather than addressing the considerable body of Supreme Court case law condemning religious endorsement by the government, including by the placement of crosses on governmental property, Abbott mischaracterizes the Supreme Court as having an "expansive interpretation of the Establishment Clause's limited and unambiguous test."
The mayor of Oak Ridge, Tenn., cut off Aleta Ledendecker's secular invocation in mid-sentence prior to the City Council meeting on Jan. 11.
FFRF sent a letter to Mayor Warren Gooch and the City Council, protesting the constitutional violation.
"The City Council must ensure that your invocation policy does not discriminate against atheists and freethinkers," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote. "Additionally, a public apology to Ms. Ledendecker for the City Council's discriminatory treatment of her is clearly warranted."
Oak Ridge allows up to three minutes for opening prayers or invocations, but Ledendecker, an FFRF Life Member, was cut off in mid-sentence with more than 30 seconds left. A video recording shows the invocation beginning at 0:0:24, and Ledendecker is harshly cut off by the mayor at 0:02:48, two minutes and 24 seconds into her invocation. It is followed immediately by the Pledge of Allegiance.
"To our knowledge, the City Council has never cut off a religious invocation mid-sentence prior to the expiration of this allotted time," Jayne wrote. "We are writing to request assurances that the City Council will not discriminate against nonreligious invocations, or the citizens delivering them, in the future. We also request that the City Council permit Ms. Ledendecker the opportunity to present another invocation — and allow her three full minutes — at her earliest convenience. The best solution, however, is to discontinue invocations at future City Council meetings altogether."
"This is not only bad policy, but very bad manners," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Such discrimination and censorship show the harm of entangling religious rituals with government."
See the complete transcript of Ledendecker's invocation on Page 22.
FFRF is taking issue with Tazewell County (Va.) Sheriff Brian Hieatt, who recently decided to put "In God We Trust" bumper stickers on county vehicles, declaring, "We want the public to know that we have strong Christian men and women serving their community."
"Our department feels very strongly about having In God We Trust on our vehicles," Hieatt said. "We know there is nothing we can do for our community without the guidance of our Lord."
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler sent Hieatt a letter on Jan. 27 in response to complaints from several Tazewell County citizens. "The United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion," she wrote. Ziegler said that Hieatt's statements disturbingly "imply a religious test for employment, which is unconstitutional."
Ziegler pointed out that court acceptance of "In God We Trust" has been based on courts ludicrously claiming the phrase lacks "religious significance." The sheriff's admission that his use of the motto is meant to be a mark of the "strong Christian men and women" employed by the sheriff's department undercuts any attempt to argue that the "In God We Trust" stickers are in any way "nonreligious."
"It's hard to imagine that any non-Christian — whether atheist, Jewish or Muslim — would feel welcome in this sheriff's department, with Hieatt so openly favoring Christianity and misusing his authority to promote religion on the job," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.
The Phoenix City Council voted 5-4 on Feb. 3 to stop pre-meeting prayers and move to a moment of silence. The move comes after FFRF sent a Feb. 1 letter backing the Satanic Temple's bid to give a prayer before the City Council's Feb. 17 meeting.
In that letter, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who's been working on behalf of Phoenix members to stop prayers in their city since August 2012, wrote, "If this council is unwilling to listen to prayers from all citizens, regardless of their belief, the solution is to not have prayers at all." Seidel explained the law simply: "Government prayers are an all or none proposition."
Hundreds filled the seats for the Feb. 3 meeting. Several FFRF members testified. The meeting dragged on for hours with more than 50 citizens giving public comment, some of them shouting in defense of the "one true God." A few prayer supporters held a prayer circle outside after the meeting, tears in their eyes.
The Phoenix City Council's choice to get rid of prayers appears to be another example of "Lucien's Law." The law is named after the Satanic Temple founder Lucien Greaves but the phrase was coined by FFRF member and Florida chapter President David Williamson. Lucien's Law states that governments will either 1) discontinue starting official sessions with prayer when the Satanic Temple asks to lead or 2) censor the Satanic Temple, thereby opening themselves to legal liability. In this case, the Phoenix City Council fortunately decided to go with option #1.
Michelle Shortt, the Satanist who was scheduled to pray, delivered her invocation to the media. FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented, "We're delighted to see that reason and the Constitution has prevailed in Phoenix."
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 in 2009, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.
ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.
SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.
MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF in some capacity since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a legal fellow.
RYAN JAYNE received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Honors College in 2007. After graduating, Ryan taught piano and chess lessons while working as a financial advisor until 2012, when he began law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. In law school he focused on intellectual property and animal law, serving as an associate editor for the Animal Law Review at Lewis & Clark and co-founding the Pacific Northwest’s first Secular Legal Society. Ryan graduated cum laude in 2015, began working with FFRF in January of 2015, and became a Diane Uhl Legal Fellow in September, 2015, specializing in faith-based government funding.
WHITNEY STEFFEN is FFRF’s Legal Assistant. Whitney is a Madison native who graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in English in 2011. Whitney received a Paralegal Post-Baccalaureate diploma from Madison College in 2014 and previously worked as a paralegal at a small law firm before coming to FFRF. She enjoys watching the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly from the galleries, reading, and spending time with her four cats.
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.
A UW graduate, TIM NOTT has called Madison home since 1991. He began his career doing campus IT support while completing a BA in English. The Internet had just become graphical and the opportunity for inexpensive, scalable communication piqued Tim's interest. After 15 years in the industry he took the entrepreneurial plunge, cofounding a startup and building a platform to help make mobile application technology as accessible and ubiquitous as the Web. The company expanded services to work on drones and the Internet of Things. Tim brings his entrepreneurial and technological skills to FFRF where he focuses on our digital products and IT infrastructure.
ROGER DALEIDEN is the Graphic Designer at the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He grew up in Wausau, Wis. He has been living in Madison since 1987. He graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stout with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1986 (Fine Art), and the received his Master of Fine Art degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1991. Roger has taught Art and Design courses for UW-Madison and also for Madison College. He has worked as a Graphic Designer for catalog companies, most recently Full Compass Systems, and as well as for newspapers, including The Capital Times. Some of his other interests include bicycling through our beautiful Southern Wisconsin landscapes, paddling down the lower Wisconsin River, sailing on our lakes and skiing at the local ski areas.
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, Lawrence Krauss, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.
“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
- Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
- Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
- Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
- Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist, author and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, Fellow of American Physical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is featured in “The Unbelievers,” a film with Richard Dawkins, and is author of nine books, including A Universe from Nothing.
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
- Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
- Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
- 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.”