YEAR IN REVIEW 2005
Year in Review
It's been a busy, productive and successful 27th year for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Thanks to membership help, lawsuits and publicity, we have added more than 900 members (net) this year, and are now at 6,000 and growing. With 14% of the U.S. population claiming to be nonreligious (29 million adults, American Religion Identification Survey, 2001), the sky's the limit! This is the time for the secular population to flex our collective muscle. The fundamentalist tide has been unrelenting, and we appreciate your activism, and your support of the Foundation's work.
We Are Being Noticed!
The Freedom From Religion Foundation received regular nationwide, wire and regional coverage in 2005, "playing in Peoria" and many other locations. Our litigation was covered in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Arizona Republic, and elsewhere. The (Moonie-owned) Washington Times, in a hyped spring series, "Religion under assault" (!), identified our comparatively young and small Foundation as being one of "four groups that furnish the most [secular] leadership." (That list included the ACLU, with its $48 million in reported annual revenues, People for the American Way, and Americans United.) We rate because the Foundation, which always has several First Amendment cases in court, has taken the lead in challenging faith-based funding.
If you are interested in following media coverage of Foundation activities or interviews, you may sign up at our website to be sent our press releases and "FFRF in the News" emails. Media coverage now has its own link at our homepage, www.ffrf.org/media. Take a peek at the impressive coverage and read many of the news articles and interviews.
TV media since our last annual report included "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News (Dec. 9, 2004) , in which O'Reilly surprisingly told Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor that if her statements about MentorKids USA were correct (they were), we would win our lawsuit. (We did, in January 2005.)
Annie Laurie appeared on CNN-TV with host Carol Lin, opposite a priest, in a lively segment, "Would the World Be Better with No Religion?" (July 30). It was refreshing to be asked to talk on an affirmative topic. Annie Laurie also appeared on the national CBS-TV Early Show about religion in the workplace (Oct. 15) and on the Paula Zahn Show, regarding a Foundation complaint, on CNN-TV (Oct. 17). Both Dan Barker and Annie Laurie did numerous regional and syndicated radio shows and interviews.
Foundation co-president Dan Barker played to packed houses at several debates around the country. He appeared at a fundamentalist church in Minneapolis debating arch rightwing radio personality Janet Parshall on Feb. 25. "Does Ethics Require God?" was the topic at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point debate in March (several hundred students). More than 800 attended an Oct. 18 debate at the University of Idaho-Moscow (in Idaho's largest public auditorium!) on the subject of: "Should religion and government be strictly separate?"
Dan, author of Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, spoke at numerous colleges, including Lawrence, Kansas, and made appearances at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Ironically, during "Free Speech Week" in April in Iowa, Dan had his microphone deliberately turned off briefly! He returned to the University of Iowa later that month to speak about "Losing Faith in Faith" to a full house. He spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and talked to several high school groups and Unitarian societies. Dan was flown to New York City to be interviewed for a documentary being produced by Simon Cole. Also interviewed in Alabama for this film were leaders and members of our chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.
Significantly, Canadian humanists invited Dan to represent atheism at the World Religions Conference on Oct. 1, where a contingent sang the freethought anthem, "Die Gedanken Sind Frei (Thoughts are Free)." Freethought was treated as a bonafide viewpoint (not as a religion) at this conference attended by Canadian dignitaries and media, where the topic was "salvation." Dan quipped: "If salvation is the cure, then atheism is the prevention." As the only nonreligionist, Dan received the lion's share of questions.
Dan performed a concert for the Los Angeles Center for Inquiry Winter Solstice banquet, represented the Foundation at a Washington, D.C. conference of secular groups in January, spoke to the Charleston, S.C., Humanists in April, and traveled to a humanist conference in Venezuela in July. He addressed the international conference in English, then enjoyed employing his fluent Spanish to speak to a local group. Dan gave a concert at the July 4th festivities at Lake Hypatia, Alabama, hosted by the Foundation's active and hardworking Alabama Freethought Society, directed by Pat Cleveland.
Dan will represent the Foundation in Iceland during the summer solstice, at an international freethought gathering including Richard Dawkins and Julia Sweeney ("Letting Go of God").
Building on dozens of victories in the last three decades, the Foundation has had a fruitful legal year, starting with a precedent-setting court victory over faith-based funding, followed by two other speedy legal victories.
On January 12, 2005, a federal judge in Wisconsin ordered Health and Human Services in D.C. to vacate funding of MentorKids USA as a result of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit. This was the first (and only) time a Cabinet agency has been ordered by a judge to halt funding under the faith-based initiative. Our victory was not appealed. Since this was a lawsuit at the Cabinet level, FFRF was not able to recover fees under rules adopted by Congress (to discourage citizens from suing them!).
On March 16, the Foundation appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, seeking to be reinstated as taxpayers to challenge the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. The 7th Circuit heard oral arguments in September. We are awaiting word.
On March 29, the Foundation filed its federal lawsuit against the University of Minnesota, which forced the University to withdraw from a "faith/health consortium" and to abandon classes it intended to sponsor promoting "faith/health leadership." That case was resolved by September. Because the University capitulated to all demands prior to major court involvement (the good news), the Foundation was not allowed to recover attorney fees (the bad news).
On April 22, the Foundation filed its challenge of $450,000 in federal appropriations to an unaccredited, tiny church college in Alaska that offers no academic classes. In October, the Department of Education, the defendant, agreed not to turn over those taxpayer funds! As a taxpayer bonus, remaining money from earlier grants was revoked. Because we were suing at the Cabinet level, FFRF was not eligible to recover costs.
Also in the spring, the Foundation agreed to enter as a co-plaintiff in David Habecker's challenge in federal court of the legality of being recalled from office for failing to say the religious Pledge of Allegiance. All briefs and motions have been filed.
On Nov. 7, the Foundation sued the State of New Mexico for funding a "God Pod" at the women's prison in Grants, N.M., predicated on salvation through Jesus Christ and 700 hours of religious proselytizing. (See the letter enclosed for a summary of the three new faith-based challenges the Foundation will be filing by early 2006.)
Dan has been hard at work finalizing the manuscript, Rhymes for the Irreverent, by Yip Harburg, the great American lyricist whose songs include "Somewhere over the Rainbow," "Paper Moon" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Yip was a highly irreverent, socially-conscious agnostic who penned clever, sometimes poignant rhymes in the 1960s and 1970s that are largely out of print. The Foundation is delighted that Yip's son and daughter, Ernie and Margie, have given the Foundation permission to publish a new, complete and enlarged hardback version of Yip's rhymes, combining two original books and including some recently-discovered poems being published for the first time. The original book 30 years ago was illustrated by distinguished artist Seymour Chwast, who, with the help of the Yip Harburg Foundation, was commissioned to add illustrations for our new version.
Rhymes for the Irreverent will be published in early 2006. We hope you will buy it for your own enjoyment, as gifts and to donate to public libraries. Yip Harburg's persona, rhymes and wit make his work an effective ambassador for freethought.
To continue its outreach and encouragement to young freethinkers, the Foundation awarded $4,900 to winning student essays in both its 2005 college and high school senior competitions. Winning essays are published in Freethought Today. This longtime endeavor, we believe, is one of the Foundation's most significant educational efforts.
At the November 2005 annual convention, the Foundation awarded Jennifer Musgrove the "Ruth (Dixie) Jokinen Student Activist Award," endowed for $1,000 annually by Board member Richard Mole. Jennifer was the student plaintiff in a successful lawsuit in her Florida community challenging the use of a cross-dominated church auditorium as the venue for public school graduations. (A California couple has also offered a second $1,000 Student Activist Award -- we are accepting nominations for major activism to promote state/church separation or freethought involving high school, college or young people.)
Eminent neurologist and bestselling author Oliver Sacks, M.D., was this year's recipient of our popular Emperor Has No Clothes Award. Dr. Sacks, who accepted his award in person, joins a list of distinguished public figures who have been recognized by the Foundation for their "plain speaking" on religion. The golden statuette is made for the Foundation by the company that manufactures the Oscar.
Board member Dick Hewetson, who is helping host our 2006 gathering in San Francisco on the weekend of Oct. 6-8, 2006, has kindly dubbed Foundation conventions the freethought equivalent of the "Academy Awards."
Last summer Charity Navigator, the largest independent evaluator of charities, awarded the Foundation its "four-star" rating:
"Receiving four out of a possible four stars indicates that your organization excels, as compared to other charities in America, in successfully managing the finances of your organization in an efficient and effective manner."
In other words, we spend most of our resources on programs (freethought and state/church separation)--not fundraising! To date, the Foundation is the only freethought or state/church watchdog group to receive a four-star rating.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has four and a half staff members and utilizes regular volunteer help. Foundation officer Phyllis Rose, a retired library administrator, works three afternoons a week. Retired Foundation president emerita Anne Gaylor works three to five afternoons a week. Jill Dean, a retired attorney and editor, volunteers one afternoon a week for half a year. We currently have a student volunteer working for class credit. The Foundation, as a tax-exempt nonprofit (unlike churches which account to no one), files an annual 990 IRS form verifying where the money goes.
The staff and its volunteers recently have been freed from three to four days of work-stopping "grunt work" since hiring a mailing house in late summer to mail Freethought Today. The savings in having the mailing house affix individual barcodes to each label (which reduces postage) pays for the mailing service and is supposed to speed delivery. We hope you are enjoying the new wrapper, which gives us some fun space to publish a monthly calendar, "food for freethought" recipe of the month, and special promotions.
The Foundation currently has about 450 Life Members ($1,000 individual membership, placed in rainy day savings) and we are grateful for all membership support.