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1RyanJaynePresskitThe Freedom From Religion Foundation will be in its hometown Capitol Wednesday morning to oppose religiously motivated anti-LGBTQ bills.

FFRF Attorney Ryan Jayne will be present at two of the day’s Wisconsin legislative committee hearings to submit oral testimony in opposition to Assembly Bill 196 and Senate Bill 323, which would prohibit trans girls from playing in female sports.

Jayne submitted written testimony to Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and Sen. André Jacque, chairmen of the committees, in advance of the meetings. If passed, the companian bills would force schools to segregate all athletic events based on “sex assigned to an individual at birth by a physician.” Jayne argues that this is the wrong body to address these concerns, with the wrong rule, and for the wrong reasons.

Jayne writes:

Let’s be honest about this bill’s motivation. After trying to pass trans bathroom bans around the country, anti-trans legislators have not suddenly discovered a love for women’s sports. It wasn’t about bathrooms then, and it’s not about women’s sports now. Trans athlete bans, in Wisconsin as in so many other states this year, are about demonizing trans kids, sending a clear message that they are outsiders in order to score some cheap political points.

This bigotry, and nearly all organized opposition to rights for LGBTQ individuals, is rooted in religion’s interpretations of biblical gender stereotypes and immorality, rather than science and humanity. Trans children must not continue to be scapegoats for the tyranny of this religious dogma.

FFRF is always pleased to share its expertise with legislative bodies and represent its membership at important hearings such as these ones.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison-based national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including a Kenosha/Racine chapter in Wisconsin. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

MaydayFive national nontheist organizations, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, hosted an event of action to counter the National Day of Prayer on May 6 — raising $25,000 earmarked for five homeless shelters or food banks.

As those in prayer beseeched the heavens, thousands of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers participated in a three-hour fundraising event: the National Day of Reason Mayday for Humanity. The extravaganza (available to watch) included celebrities, comedians, musicians and poets.

“We believe in the Robert Ingersoll maxim, ‘The hands that help are better far than lips that pray,’” comments FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Think of the good that would come if our nation stopped hyping prayer and focused on improving this world.”

The nonprofit secular groups are directing the proceeds to regional “helping hands.” FFRF will be donating its share of the donations to Second Harvest in Wisconsin. Recovering from Religion will be donating $5,000 to eStart in Missouri, and the Secular Coalition for America will direct $5,000 to Capitol Food Bank in Washington, D.C. Each benefiting organization operates in a nondiscriminatory, secular manner.

Margaret Downey, the Mayday for Humanity event coordinator and president of the Freethought Society, which is delivering $5,000 to Safe Harbor of Chester County, says, “Thanks to the nonbelievers who generously donated during the event, humans, not prayers, answered the Mayday for Humanity emergency call to help end homelessness and hunger.”

It’s all part of the secular notion of doing and acting — instead of praying and hoping in vain.

YogaThe Alabama Legislature has commendably done away with a ban on teaching yoga in public schools.

Since yoga in public schools would almost certainly not involve religious instruction or iconography, state/church watchdogs like the Freedom From Religion Foundation are not concerned about the new law. Millions of non-Hindu Americans practice yoga and understand how the practice could be calming and physically beneficial for kids. Teaching kids how to stretch and meditate neither coerces them into converting to Hinduism nor does it send a message that the school prefers Hinduism over other religions, or religion over nonreligion. In fact, the vast majority of yoga teachers in Alabama will almost certainly not even be Hindu.

But there are certain entities objecting to the yoga law: right-wing Christian advocacy groups. The same outfits that complain about how prayer was “removed from public schools” (private prayer wasn’t) and that argue the separation between state and church isn’t in the Constitution (it is) are hypocritically painting Alabama’s yoga law as a violation of the Establishment Clause. This confirms that these outfits are not really interested in religious liberty; actually they want Christianity to be taught in schools.

For example, Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Actions Program, has reportedly said of yoga: “It’s the Hindu religion. It’s an issue of separation of church and state.” Yet the group has also celebrated public school students receiving credit “to attend bible studies or other religious functions.”

The biggest show of sanctimoniousness, however, comes from the Foundation for Moral Law, the Christian nationalist organization founded by disgraced, failed Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court because he repeatedly used his position to promote Christianity. The group objects to public schools teaching yoga, but publicly supported a public school prayer practice that the U.S. Supreme Court held to be unconstitutional in 2000 and regularly defends the government promoting Christianity.

Such outfits have no credibility when they say that they aim to protect “religious liberty.” They only want the government to advance religion when it’s the “right” kind of Christianity (the kind that opposes LGBTQ rights and women’s health care). When it’s another perspective, they pretend to care about keeping state and church separate. This is naked Christian nationalism, and is antithetical to true religious liberty.

This is not the first time Christian nationalist groups that FFRF has defeated in court have argued that yoga in public schools is unconstitutional. In California nearly a decade ago, the Pacific Justice Institute unsuccessfully sued a school district on the same issue. The same Christian nationalist organization lost to FFRF while trying to defend blatantly sectarian Christian prayers at public school board meetings in the same state.

The hypocrisy of the Christian right continues unabated.

Graphic courtesy of Vectortoons. 

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Rhode Island is advancing a pair of good bills, SB 398 and HB 5378, which would increase the minimum age for marriage to 18 — with no exceptions. Please take a few moments to make your voice heard on this important issue.

More than 200,000 minors in the United States were married between 2000 and 2015. A report published earlier this year warns that the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening decades of progress toward eliminating child marriage worldwide. School closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths are putting an additional 10 million girls globally at risk for child marriage before the end of the decade.

According to UNICEF, minors who are married are 50 percent more likely to drop out of school. Additionally, early marriage doubles a teenager’s chances of living in poverty and triples the likelihood that he or she will be a victim of domestic violence, compared to married adults. Often, these marriages stem from antiquated and horrifying religious beliefs that compromise the safety of children, but many states still allow the practice in order to pacify powerful theocratic constituencies.

Click on the red “Take Action” link to use our automated system to contact your state lawmakers and urge them to vote yes on these bills. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.

TAKE ACTION!

1RyanJaynePressSmallFlorida officials are unconstitutionally imposing religion on public schools, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan D. Jayne asserts in an op-ed published in one of the state’s most prominent newspapers.

In a column for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Jayne spotlights two recent events. The Legislature has passed a bill that will require a one-to-two minute moment of silence every morning at every public school in Florida, openly intended to encourage students to recite prayers in class. The second attack on secular schools, based on a 2019 law to revisit public school civics standards, is the Florida Department of Education’s proposal for new curriculum standards that indoctrinate children into a counterfactual version of history designed to paint a false narrative that the United States is a Christian nation.

Jayne writes: Both the U.S. and the Florida constitutions prohibit laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” meaning the government must not take sides on religious debates. Public schools cannot present the government as a Christian or “Judeo-Christian” entity.

Besides, the Ten Commandments’ influence on the rule of law in America is simply a myth. And yet, the Florida Department of Education has proposed an unconstitutional requirement that this disinformation be taught to every seventh grader in Florida, along with other debunked Christian nationalist talking points such as “How Judeo-Christian values influenced America’s founding ideals and documents” and “the influence of the Protestant work ethic on economic freedom and personal responsibility.” The proposed standards would require that schools remind ninth-grade students of all these falsehoods.

Jayne concludes: “The sectarian religious measures being foisted on Florida schoolchildren are un-American and antithetical to true religious freedom.” Read the complete op-ed here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation strives to focus and comment on state-level developments around the nation. Jayne’s commentary is part of that endeavor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison, Wis.-headquartered national nonprofit with over 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including almost 1,800 members and a chapter in Florida.

Protect Abortion rights

Abortion rights are under attack nationwide, and that includes in our home state. Please take a few moments to contact your state lawmakers and urge them to overturn Wisconsin’s archaic statute criminalizing abortion by supporting the Abortion Rights Preservation Act.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear an appeal of a Mississippi statute that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, laying the ground for SCOTUS’ anti-choice majority to reverse Roe v. Wade and erase abortion rights nationwide. Should this happen, Wisconsin’s statute criminalizing abortion, dating back to 1849, would go into immediate effect. Physicians who perform abortions could go to prison for up to six years.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Health Organization, will be the first significant abortion case heard by the high court since extremist Amy Coney Barrett replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett is one of the three anti-abortion justices appointed to the high court by previous President Trump, whose stated goal was to overturn Roe.

The Abortion Rights Preservation Act, AB 106/SB 75, would eliminate Wisconsin’s ancient ban and preserve abortion rights in the state, even in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Please use our simple, automated system to contact your state lawmakers and urge them to support this critical legislation. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided. Personalized messages are always the most effective.

TAKE ACTION!

1MackshieldThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has won its court challenge to stop a Texas judge from conducting courtroom prayer.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt today ruled in favor of plaintiffs FFRF and local attorney “John Roe.” They had sued Montgomery County Judge Wayne Mack over his divisive and unconstitutional practice of opening each court session with chaplain-led prayer. Mack, as a justice of the peace, has jurisdiction over minor misdemeanor offenses and lesser civil matters. Montgomery County is north of Houston, and its county seat is Conroe.

The decision reads: “The court is of the view that the defendant violates the Establishment Clause when, before a captured audience of litigants and their counsel, he presents himself as theopneustically inspired, enabling him to advance, through the chaplaincy program, God’s ‘larger purpose.’ Such a magnanimous goal flies in the face of historical tradition, and makes a mockery of both religion and law.”

FFRF welcomes today’s judgment declaring at long last that Mack cannot continue abusing his authority to coerce attorneys, litigants and other citizens into participating in his courtroom prayers.

“A courtroom is not a church, and a judge’s bench is not a pulpit,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Today’s ruling is a victory for the constitutional rights of all Americans and for equal justice under the law.”

FFRF and Roe, who originally challenged the courtroom prayers in March 2017, due to various technical reasons refiled the case against Mack in 2019.

Mack, a formerly ordained minister who attended Jackson College of Ministries, made the unprecedented decision to solicit chaplains to open his court sessions with prayer, a practice not replicated by any other court in the country. Despite numerous complaints regarding the practice, Mack insisted on opening his court session with chaplain-led prayer. Attendees have reported Mack surveying the courtroom during prayers, causing concern that their cases would be affected if they did not participate. Mack’s bailiff announced the prayers, stating that anyone could leave during the prayer, but then locked the courtroom doors. Mack entered, talked about his chaplaincy program, introduced a chaplain, and gave the name and location of the chaplain's church. While everyone in the courtroom remained standing, the chaplain, who was almost always Christian, delivered a prayer, with no guidelines regarding permissible content.

Since entering the lawsuit, Roe has regularly declined business in order to avoid appearing in Mack’s courtroom. On some matters, where a district court has concurrent jurisdiction with Mack’s court, Roe elected to bring claims in the district court instead of Mack’s court, despite the higher filing fees, higher service fees and the generally slower docket, in order to avoid Mack’s prayer practice. These decisions, motivated by a desire to avoid government-prescribed prayer, are not choices that any attorney or private litigant should have to make, FFRF argued in its briefings.

FFRF’s suit asserted that Mack’s prayer practice is unconstitutionally coercive, with a primary purpose and effect of promoting religion. FFRF noted that Mack’s practices cannot be compared to legislative prayer. Unlike legislative prayer, Mack’s courtroom chaplains directed their prayers to the audience, not the judge. And in the courtroom setting many of the audience members are compelled, under threat of a warrant issuing for their arrest or other ordered penalties, to appear in the courtroom. Judge Hoyt agreed that the prayers were coercive.

While this latest decision resolves the case, the court issued a ruling on March 25 granting FFRF and its plaintiff Roe default judgment against Mack in his official capacity as a judicial officer. Because the state of Texas elected not to defend the lawsuit, plaintiffs Roe and FFRF moved for, and were granted, a default judgment declaring: “Judge Mack’s courtroom prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." Plaintiffs plan to seek recovery of their attorneys’ fees and costs against the state.

“In a time where the wall of separation between state and church is continually chipped away, this decision is welcomed for its straightforward and accurate interpretation of the Establishment Clause, noting the prayer practice ‘flies in the face’ of our traditions,” comments FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert.

FFRF and Roe are being represented by FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover, with FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell and Attorney Ayesha Khan of Washington, D.C., serving as co-counsel.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has 35,000 members and several chapters all over the United States, including more than 1,400 members and a chapter in Texas.

Amit Pal Portrait 2019 Web 600pxIndia’s Hindu nationalist government is primarily responsible for the apocalyptic pandemic wave currently slamming the country, says Freedom From Religion Foundation Communications Director Amitabh Pal in a nationally distributed op-ed.

In a piece written for the Progressive Media Project and circulated through the Tribune News Service to hundreds of newspapers in the United States and abroad, Pal details the missteps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his regime, which, not surprisingly, includes pandering to religious majoritarian sentiment:

The top official from Modi’s party in charge of a mountainous state allowed a massive Ganges bathing religious festival to proceed in the middle of the pandemic — one year ahead of schedule due to astrological reasons. Millions of Indians took a dip and disseminated the virus all over India.

… In keeping with its Hindu nationalist ideology, the Modi administration has a fondness for junk science that extols the cow and the traditional Hindu medicinal system called Ayurveda. Two cabinet ministers were present at the launch of a medicine (named Coronil) that a godman known as Baba Ramdev, with a medicinal empire, is peddling as a COVID-19 cure.

Pal has close family members living in India, and hears daily from his mother, as he says in the op-ed, “about relatives falling sick, getting hospitalized and worse.” Read more here of his dissection of Modi’s complacency and ineptitude.

Right-wing majoritarian rule has taken a huge toll around the world — and Pal’s piece provides us proof of that.

1AndrewSeidelPresskitThe country has been rocked by the unwelcome news that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up an abortion rights case this term. FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel has explored in a new column another aspect of this alarming development that hasn’t quite made the mainstream media narrative.

Religion Dispatches has published Seidel’s latest op-ed on this subject, “First Roe, Then Contraception: Unless Action is Taken, Supreme Court is About to Strike Down Fundamental Rights of American Women,” which begins:

Sixteen days before Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, the Supreme Court scheduled a conference on a case that could end the reproductive freedom of 170 million American women. Ginsburg died on Sept. 19, 2020, and the conference, set for Sept. 29, that would decide whether the high court would hear this pivotal case, was postponed. And then postponed again. After delaying and rescheduling more than 20 times, the Supreme Court decided Monday to take Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case out of Mississippi orchestrated specifically to challenge Roe v. Wade.

The chances that this challenge will be successful have dramatically increased now that Amy Coney Barrett has replaced RBG. It’s easy to imagine that the justices were waiting to see what would happen with the election and any possible new justice before taking the case, then giving it some space from Barrett’s confirmation. But Barrett was put on the court to write the opinion that overturns Roe, as many, myself included, warned after Barrett’s nomination. Christian Nationalist preacher, Fox News contributor, and Trump bootlicker Robert Jeffress was explicit on Fox the other night when discussing this case: “We’re gonna see now what the justices do and if they uphold their part of the deal.” This was “the deal.” Trump and McConnell put you on the court, you end Roe.

The point is to have a woman author the opinion that takes away all women’s reproductive rights. This gives Jeffress and white evangelicals — the only religious demographic in which a majority supports outlawing abortion — a simple counterargument that their audience will eat up: “How can the decision be anti-woman if it was written by a woman?!”

They’re gunning for Roe. And after that, they’re coming for contraception.

The piece is packed with information. Seidel also cautions people against looking to Chief Justice John Roberts as a savior here. “It’s not gonna happen,” he remarks.

Seidel does offer a solution — one that will take a lot of work and activism on our part. So please read the piece on Religion Dispatches and then share it on your social media so that people are aware of just how much is at stake and how we can solve the problem. Then maybe start calling your senators.

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the U.S. Justice Department to initiate a nationwide investigation into the Roman Catholic clergy’s serial sexual abuse and cover-up.

“The Church’s claim of divine authority gives it coercive power over its congregants that allows it to get away with widespread crimes,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Under Catholic Canon law, adherents are required to give a ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to their church. For millennia, the Church has used that power to suppress questions, doubts and dissent. This leads to frequent unprosecuted crimes against child victims who are forced to remain silent by their parents under pressure from, and fear of, the Church.”

Twenty-one states, as well as Washington, D.C., have investigated or are launching investigations of these crimes since 2002. Most recently, FFRF’s home state of Wisconsin announced its own investigation following a survivor’s suicide after the church reportedly stopped paying for his medication and therapy following years of abuse.

It is time, FFRF noted, for the U.S. government to follow the lead of states like Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois — not to mention Ireland and Australia — and investigate this massive and coordinated abuse of minors throughout the country.

FFRF cites the widely covered 1,400-page Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing thousands of instances of sexual abuse by clergy in six of the state's eight dioceses published in 2018 as evidence that the Catholic Church’s secretive and imposing structure allowed hundreds of offenders to escape prosecution for decades.

A federal investigation is in order because the Church’s “musical chairs” history of deliberately moving offenders to new locations — shielding them from local outrage and providing them with fresh victims — creates an interstate crisis that requires federal action. Even the Catholic Church itself has admitted that this is a global problem, with Pope Francis having referred to a “culture of abuse” inside the Church. However, the pope’s failure to provide any meaningful action to correct the problem confirms what FFRF and many victims’ rights groups have asserted for decades: The methodical, organized sexual abuse in the Catholic Church will not stop until secular authorities intervene.

To add to the problem, undue deference has not only been shown by the faithful, but all too often also by police, prosecutors and justices who have turned the other way when confronted with evidence of abuse. Compounding the cover-up is the Catholic Church hierarchy’s active lobbying to suppress reform of statutes of limitations in many states. In New York state alone, the Church has spent close to $2 million to lobby over civil actions and to fight statute of limitations reforms.

FFRF asks that the Justice Department not sit by while a hyperwealthy tax-exempt organization facilitates the sexual abuse of thousands of children, cites divine authority to silence victims, and works vigorously to protect both the abusers and the Church’s coffers. For the sake of national safety and justice for our nation’s children, FFRF is urging Garland to immediately commence an inquiry into the Catholic Church’s crimes.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison-based national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

BillDonohueThe irony is delicious.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation vigorously protested the White House faith-based offices when first created by President George W. Bush. We never thought Catholic League President Bill Donohue would join our protest.

But ... saints preserve us! This week Donohue wrote a piece saying that Biden should “do us all a favor and simply trash this office.”

What caused this startling pronouncement? The fact that the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships had the graciousness to meet with FFRF and five other secular organizations. That meeting was set up by the Secular Coalition for America last Friday. Donohue apparently learned of it thanks to after-the-fact coverage by the Religious News Service.

Fumes blowhard Donohue: “None of them are religion-friendly and some are positively militant in their agenda […] If the Biden administration is going to manipulate the founding purpose of faith-based initiatives by welcoming the advice of militant secularists, it would do us all a favor and simply trash this office. It is obviously a bust.”

In short, according to Donohue, governmental offices that are not bigoted toward nonbelievers must be abolished. Donohue also complained that our groups have falsely accused the Trump administration of fomenting Christian nationalism, which Donohue termed a “fiction.” Yeah, right.

FFRF didn’t just protest Bush’s creation of the faith-based offices. We filed suit. After a district court ruled that we had no “standing” or right to sue over this executive action, FFRF appealed that dismissal to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in our favor:

“By forbidding Congress to establish a national church, the Establishment Clause places a specific limitation on Congressional appropriations, since the essence of an established religion is government financial support,” wrote U.S. District Judge Richard A. Posner, joined by Judge Diane P. Wood. Posner questioned that if taxpayers don’t have the right to sue over such an office, nor would they have the right to sue if the White House decided to spend a small amount of its total budget on building a mosque.

Our case was remanded to the district level to be heard on its merits, but the Bush Administration appealed our win to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, between the time we began the lawsuit and the Supreme Court accepted it, Sandra Day O’Connor had retired. This important, moderate swing voter was replaced by Samuel Alito. Nuff said. In a 5-4 decision issued in 2007, Hein v. FFRF, we lost the case on standing — not on the merits, which were not addressed. That Supreme Court decision essentially declared that no citizen would have the right to sue the president or an executive for using discretionary money for religious purposes.

Our position that it is unconstitutional for governmental bodies and agencies to create faith-based offices is unchanged — even when they are called “Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” But FFRF is pleased, unlike Donohue, that the Biden White House, when announcing its version of this office, said it “will not prefer one faith over another or favor religious over secular organizations.” Biden has created a very different office than what was envisioned by Bush — and that appears to be the rub for Donohue.

FFRF and each of the five other secular groups in attendance expressed our sincere thanks to the director Melissa Rogers and other staff for meeting with us, and for acknowledging the concerns of the quarter of the U.S. population today that is not religious.

All we can say about Donohue’s pronouncement is that religion, not just politics, certainly makes strange bedfellows.