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Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

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“A chill wind blows,” as the late Justice Harry Blackmun once proclaimed to warn against the initial erosion of Roe v. Wade in the 1980s.

Today (May 17) that wind got far chillier, with the announcement that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a Mississippi statute that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. 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 former President Trump, whose stated goal was to overturn Roe. Barrett, an outspoken anti-abortion proponent who has received widespread praise from anti-abortion groups and organizations, makes the Supreme Court a securely anti-abortion majority. For example, when asked about the future of abortion access in 2016, Barrett replied, “I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, how many restrictions can be put on clinics — I think that would change.”

And that’s just what is on the line in Dobbs v. Jackson Health Organization. In 2018, Mississippi legislators passed a bill that would ban abortion at 15 weeks of gestation, except in rare cases of severe fetal abnormality or medical emergency. The law was struck down by lower courts. As Mississippi only has one abortion clinic, women already face many obstacles in obtaining timely care. The women of Mississippi are not the only ones whose reproductive rights are in danger.

The Supreme Court has long established that it is unconstitutional to impose a pre-viability abortion ban. Viability is around 24-26 weeks of gestation, but even then the Court has acknowledged that each specific pregnancy necessitates its own medical determination. If the court rules that a state may ban abortion at 15 weeks, it will be overturning much of the precedent of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that itself is based on the established constitutional right to privacy. With countless burdensome obstacles, like the religiously-rooted Hyde Amendment and TRAP laws that target clinics and care providers, women’s constitutional right to an abortion may be gradually erased.

As Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights notes, “The consequences of a Roe reversal would be devastating. Over 20 states would prohibit abortion outright. Eleven states — including Mississippi — currently have trigger bans on the books which would instantaneously ban abortion if Roe is overturned.”

Abortion access and care is unnecessarily divisive due to the ideological motivations of the few. In fact, a new Pew study found that the majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Additionally, 82 percent of religiously unaffiliated people support legal abortions. Beyond public opinion, there is no science that supports abortion restrictions or bans. Evidence-based research has shown that abortions are safe and effective and that serious complications are extremely rare — less than 1 percent. Rather, studies have shown that women are about 14 times more likely to die as a result of childbirth and pregnancy than from an abortion. There is simply no governmental interest or business in obstructing abortion care. The only organized opposition to abortion is religious in nature.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in the beginning of October with a decision to likely come by June of 2022.

As we anxiously await this verdict, we must take swift action to ensure that reproductive rights are protected by encouraging legislators to pass the EACH Act, which would reverse the draconian Hyde Amendment and guarantee abortion coverage in federal health insurance programs. This Christian nationalist campaign to dismantle abortion care in the United States also signals an urgent need for court reform.

The future of abortion rights in the United States hangs in the balance and our secular activism is needed more than ever.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and five other secular organizations met with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on Friday afternoon, and made a little welcome history.

Representatives from FFRF, the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, Ex-Muslims of North America and the Secular Coalition for America, which set up the meeting, met with Executive Director Melissa Rogers, Deputy Director Josh Dickson and Program Specialist Ben O’Dell.

“With more than a quarter of the population identifying as a ‘None’ (no religion), it’s vital that our community, our voices be heard in favor of reason in social policy and upholding our secular government,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said, who was present along FFRF Co-President Dan Barker and FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel.

The cordial meeting, which included discussions of secular priorities, marks a break from the previous administration, where Paula White ruled the roost and meetings began with prayer.

The current meetings have no prayer, no bragging about how religion is being inserted into the federal government. There has been no attempt to funnel government funds to these groups, and much of the emphasis has been messaging on the importance and availability of vaccines. FFRF representatives have been attending and monitoring all of the calls.

FFRF blew the lid off a series of secretive calls the Trump White House held to reassure churches that they could and should request forgivable loans under various SBA programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). In one call, Trump-allied faith leaders were assured by the federal government that even a discriminatory fly-by-night “church” that provides absolutely no secular social services, and of which the owner is the sole employee, could have its wages covered by taxpayers during the PPP time period. These assurances were made a full two weeks before the SBA released its final rule on eligibility, showing that it had no interest in considering public comments.

Another call was even more explicit, with churches urged to apply for PPP funds before the deadline. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council, reported that the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, which took in $350,000–$1 million, “has literally been kept solvent . . . by the Paycheck Protection Plan (sic)” (44:30). Dobson noted with obvious glee that in 43 years of leading two faith-based ministries, he had “never asked for, nor received, one cent from the federal government” (43:49), expressing his surprise that taxpayer funds could now flow to his ministry.

While FFRF maintains that it is inappropriate for any government action to turn religious Americans into an “in” crowd while secular Americans are “outsiders,” the current White House faith-based office has turned a blatantly Christian nationalist outfit into an office that explicitly acknowledges the separation between religion and government. That’s a step in the right direction.

SoSBlinkenThe Freedom From Religion Foundation applauds the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom released today by Secretary of State Antony Blinken for including the rights of nonbelievers.

Blinken described religious freedom as “coequal,” condemned Nigeria for jailing citizens for blasphemy, noted approvingly that Sudan repealed laws against apostasy, and highlighted Nigeria’s continuing prosecution of blasphemy.

Blinken singled out a famous imprisoned Saudi atheist by name, saying, “Authorities continue to jail human rights activists like Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to a decade in prison and a thousand lashes for speaking about his beliefs.” For the “crime” of apostasy, Badawi was shockingly sentenced in 2013 to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, which was increased to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison the following year (with a hefty accompanying fine). Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, spoke movingly at FFRF’s convention in 2018, where she was presented with the Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award.

“This report is a breath of fresh air after the last administration,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religious freedom is a vital right, but it must include the right to dissent and to reject religion. We’re glad to see that reasserted.”

Blinken’s description of religious freedom was particularly important because it corrected a disastrous deviation from the universal understanding of the right as “coequal.”

The Trump administration, led by Christian nationalist Mike Pompeo, sought to create a “hierarchy of rights” with religious freedom at the top. “This elevated religion into a super-right that allowed believers to impact and even violate others’ rights to free speech, assembly, and be free from government discrimination,” adds FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel.

The new report marks the death of the ill-considered attempt to privilege religion above all else. As Blinken explained:

Religious freedom is a human right. In fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human. To think freely. To follow our conscience. To change our beliefs if our hearts and minds lead us to do so . . . Religious freedom, like every human right, is universal. All people, everywhere, are entitled to it, no matter where they live, what they believe or what they don’t believe. Religious freedom is coequal with other human rights because human rights are indivisible. Religious freedom is not more or less important than the freedom to speak, assemble, to participate in the political life of one’s country, to live free from torture or slavery, or any other human right.

Blinken observed that religious freedom cannot exist without democratic governance and the rule of law. FFRF would add that, in the U.S., democracy and rule of law have been under sustained assault by Christian nationalists, including the violent assault on Jan. 6.

The report is nearly 2,500 pages and it includes references to some of the people FFRF has worked to help and unjust laws FFRF has worked to overcome internationally. For instance, the section on Nigeria reports, “Authorities detained Mubarak Bala, head of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, in April without filing any charges, although his attorneys stated they believed he was being held on charges related to allegations of insulting Islam on Facebook.” FFRF has mobilized members and resources to help Bala. The report on Saudi Arabia notes that “the law criminalizes ‘the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form.’”

The press conference was given in the shadow of the violence in Gaza and a mounting death toll (AP reports the death of 53 Palestinians, including 14 children), which became the focus of media questions at the conference.

Blinken mentioned positive changes, such as the fact that last year, the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan repealed apostasy laws and public order laws “that have been used to harass members of religious minority groups” and those attempting to leave Islam. The report makes it clear that true religious freedom, which necessitates freedom from government-imposed religion, has a long way to go. For instance, many countries still punish apostasy: Afghanistan, Oman, Mauritania, Qatar, Yemen and the Maldives, to name a few.

The spotlight that the report sheds on such issues will hopefully nudge the world in a positive direction.

Hyde Weldon Amendments Web

 

Please take a few moments to urge President Biden to stand up to religious megadonors and members of Congress by excluding two amendments from the presidential budget that restrict access to abortion and family planning services.

The first, the Hyde Amendment, is a discriminatory provision that denies federal funding for abortion care, mainly for low-income women. Women on Medicaid are ineligible for receiving subsidized abortion care unless their residential state uses its own funds to pay for abortion care, which is only the case in 16 states. The Hyde Amendment disproportionally limits already underserved populations from accessing abortion services, further exacerbating health care and economic inequality.

The Hyde Amendment was introduced in 1976 by Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, a staunch Catholic who was praised by the Catholic Church for his extremist anti-abortion policies. He cited “the final judgment” and fear of “what happens to them in eternity” as his motivations for the amendment. Read “It’s time to end the Hyde Amendment” by Barbara Alvarez.

The second, the Weldon Amendment, is considered a “conscience protection” that emboldens hospitals, insurance companies and health care professionals to deny women health care by refusing to provide, cover or refer abortion care based on “religious or moral grounds.” Allowing providers to deny patients’ rights because of religious beliefs threatens access to quality, comprehensive health care.

These provisions are plainly based on dogmatic religious beliefs, and abandon the safety and autonomy of some of the most vulnerable Americans. Biden has promised to end the Hyde Amendment, but he needs to hear public support for doing so immediately. Please urge Biden to exclude the Hyde Amendment and Weldon Amendment from the presidential budget. Click on the red “Take Action” link below to contact the White House. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.

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11MyBodyMyChoice

The Department of Health and Human Services has published a new proposed rule to reverse the Trump administration’s cruel attacks on Title X, the federal program providing family planning and other health care screening to low-income patients. Please take a moment to submit a public comment to support this proposal to expand equitable, affordable family planning services.

Under pressure from religious megadonors, the Trump administration instituted the domestic gag rule, which stripped public funding under Title X from health care providers offering abortion services or information. This callous and shortsighted policy change specifically targeted Planned Parenthood clinics, endangering the health care and safety of millions of women across the country and leaving many underserved communities scrambling to find new providers or going without services entirely.

The proposal, “Ensuring Access to Equitable, Affordable, Client-Centered, Quality Family Planning Services,” will reverse the Trump gag rule, restore funding to health care providers who offer abortion services or referral, and advance public health by expanding access to health care for underserved Americans.

Read FFRF’s full comment in support of the new proposed rule.

Submit a formal comment on this to the Department of Health and Human Services proposal via the Federal Registrar. Follow the brief steps below. Feel free to copy and paste or adapt the talking points provided. The public comment period on these HHS rules is open until Monday, May 17.

  1. Click on the red “Take Action!” link below. You will be taken to the regulations.gov comment page.
  2. Click on the green button in the upper right corner that reads “Submit a Formal Comment.”
  3. Fill out the prompt provided.

TALKING POINTS

I strongly support the new Department of Health and Human Services proposed rule change “Ensuring Access to Equitable, Affordable, Client-Centered, Quality Family Planning Services,” which will overturn the domestic gag rule. Expanding health care access for underserved Americans is critical, including access to comprehensive family planning services and abortion services. As a secular nation, we must not allow the religious motivations of the few to dictate the health care of millions of women.

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MyBodyMyChoice

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is supporting a proposed Department of Health and Human Services rule to reverse the Trump administration’s cruel attacks on Title X, the federal program providing family planning and other health care screening to low-income patients.

The state/church watchdog has submitted its formal support for the proposed rule change to expand access to family planning services and is encouraging its more than 35,000 members nationwide to register their support as well.

The new rule, “Ensuring Access to Equitable, Affordable, Client-Centered, Quality Family Planning Services,” will reverse the Trump gag rule, restore funding to health care providers who offer abortion services or referral, and advance public health by expanding access to health care for underserved Americans.

Under pressure from religious megadonors, the Trump administration instituted the domestic gag rule in early 2019, which stripped public funding under Title X from health care providers offering abortion services or information. This callous and shortsighted policy change specifically targeted Planned Parenthood clinics, endangering the health care and safety of millions of women across the country and leaving many underserved communities scrambling to find new providers or going without services entirely.

The domestic gag rule instead favored public funds going to religious anti-abortion groups. These faith-based groups typically refuse to provide factual sex education information or contraception, or even refer patients to providers for birth control. Studies have shown that abstinence-only education is ineffective, withholds medically accurate information and undermines public health programs.

“It is unconscionable that religiously motivated organizations have received family planning monies instead of organizations that provide comprehensive, science-based resources and information,” comment FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker. “American women have a constitutional right to privacy, in this case to determine if or whether they wish to use contraception, terminate unwanted pregnancies or become mothers. The government needs to ensure that right, not undermine it.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

1BillofRightsNativityThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has been granted permanent relief in its six-year lawsuit challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s censorship of its Winter Solstice display in the Texas Capitol.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in favor of FFRF in its federal challenge of censorship of its freethought display in the Capitol in 2015. Yeakel ordered declaratory and injunctive relief to ensure that Abbott and the State Preservation Board will not violate FFRF’s free speech rights in the future.

The court, after officially rendering its verdict in favor of FFRF’s First Amendment freedom-of-speech claim, granted it protection from future viewpoint censorship and issued an injunction and this declaration:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND DECLARED that defendants violate the Foundation’s First Amendment rights and engage in viewpoint discrimination as a matter of law when they exclude the Foundation’s exhibit based on the perceived offensiveness of its message.

FFRF, with help from members and with requisite sponsorship by a legislator, had placed a Winter Solstice display in the state Capitol in December 2015 as a response to a Christian nativity. FFRF’s whimsical display depicted the Founders and the Statue of Liberty celebrating the “birth” of the Bill of Rights (which was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791). Abbott, as chair of the Texas State Preservation Board, while permitting the Christian exhibit, ordered FFRF’s display removed only three days after it was erected, lambasting it as indecent, mocking and contributing to public immorality.

FFRF initially won its lawsuit at the district court level, which ruled that Abbott and the State Preservation Board had violated FFRF’s free speech rights. In April 2020, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that FFRF was entitled to more permanent, lasting relief than the district court initially awarded, and sent the case back to that court to award such relief. Today, the district court granted FFRF prospective relief by enjoining Abbott and the board from censoring FFRF’s speech in the future.

Abbott has long demonized atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, going so far as to warn FFRF “not to mess with Texas.”

“In fact it was Abbott who ‘messed’ with free speech,” comments Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “If governmental bodies create public forums, they cannot then censor unpopular or minority points of view.”

Gaylor notes that today the fastest-growing segment of the population are the “Nones” — religiously unaffiliated Americans. FFRF has almost 1,500 members in Texas.

FFRF’s relief was greatly delayed, thanks to a stunt pulled by the State Preservation Board. Two weeks before the parties’ briefs were due to the district court, the board made slight adjustments to its exhibit policies, including a dubious declaration that all future exhibits in the Capitol would be considered “government speech.” In its subsequent briefing to the district court, FFRF successfully argued that these surface-level changes did not alter the true nature of the forum for citizen speech in the Texas Capitol. The court rejected the state’s argument that FFRF’s lawsuit no longer involved a live controversy and that the case was thus moot.

“This is a great victory for free speech rights, especially of minority viewpoints, including nonreligious citizens whose voices must be equally respected,” says FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert.

FFRF is represented by Associate Counsel Sam Grover and Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott in the case, with attorney Rich Bolton of Boardman and Clark LLP serving as litigation counsel.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including nearly 1,500 members and a chapter in Texas. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Vaccines NJ

The Maine Legislature is again trying to reinstate religious vaccination exemptions, putting all Mainers at risk.

Please take a few moments to contact Maine lawmakers and urge them to oppose this dangerous bill (LD 833).

These exemptions were removed in 2019, and a statewide mandate to overturn that change was resoundly defeated, showing a strong public consensus that Maine residents do not want such nonmedical exemptions.

It is critical that we counter the influence of anti-science religious zealots, whose dangerous rhetoric has caused very serious and preventable infectious disease outbreaks in numerous states across the country. Most recently, this anti-science rhetoric has fueled the spread of Covid-19. And in the case of other infection disease outbreaks, such as measles, it’s been shown that states with the most relaxed exemption laws see the highest rates of infection.

The Maine Joint Education and Cultural Affairs Committee has a hearing on this bill tomorrow, Thursday, May 6, at 10 a.m. local time. Please stand against this dangerous bill that will put Mainers at risk due to the implications of other people’s religious dogma. Click on the red “Take Action” link below to contact all members of this committee and urge them to vote no on LD 833. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.

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11MyBodyMyChoice

The New York Legislature is considering a host of positive bills to expand reproductive justice in your state. These bills are each a step toward humane public policy that champions reason and science over religion and dogma.

The following bills are all going to be considered at a hearing tomorrow, so please contact state lawmakers today and urge them to support these measures:

  1. S 399 provides additional rights to pregnant inmates. Pregnant woman will be allowed one support person in the delivery room, will be apprised of nursery programs and will be informed about pregnancy counseling and abortion services.
  2. S 401 will establish a women’s health education program in state and local correctional facilities. This will include informed care for women who have been victims of domestic and sexual violence and will expand medical options and services for incarcerated women.
  3. S 5633 enacts the “Public University Emergency Contraception Education Act.” If passed, every college and university in the state will receive informational materials and posters to be shared with students about the safety and efficacy of emergency contraception.

A critical component of undoing the Religious Right’s grip on public policy, including its prominent opposition to reproductive rights, is implementing positive measures like these that expand the rights of all people to make informed decisions about their own medical care. As secular Americans, we must champion legislation that is guided by reason, science and morality. Please take a few moments to urge your lawmakers to do the same.

The N.Y. Senate Committee on Women’s Issues has a hearing on these bills tomorrow, Wednesday, May 5, at 9:30 a.m. local time. Please use our simple, automated system to contact all members of the committee and urge them to vote yes on S 399, S 401 and S 5633. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.

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PRConversionTherapyBan

 

The Puerto Rico Legislature is considering a proposal to ban conversion therapy — and lawmakers need to hear your support for this bill.

The bill, PC 683, would protect LGBTQ Puerto Ricans from the barbaric, pseudoscientific religious treatment deceitfully called “conversion therapy” by restricting any licensed physician or mental health care professional in the state from engaging in the practice.

Conversion therapy is a dangerous and discredited practice aimed at altering a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often basing the “therapy” in religious shame and guilt. Many governmental health organizations have denounced the practice as both physically and psychologically traumatizing. Individuals who endure this so-called treatment are at a higher risk for suicide and depression. Read more.

The House Judiciary Committee will soon consider PC 683. Click on the red “Take Action” link below to contact all members of this committee and urge them to support PC 683. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided. If you prefer to contact the members of the House Judiciary Committee in Spanish, feel free to copy and paste the translated talking points below into the message box instead of the English version. Please also share this action alert with like-minded Puerto Ricans.

PUNTOS DE CONVERSACIÓN
Como su elector, le insto a que apoye a PC 683, que prohíbe la terapia de conversión en Puerto Rico.

Se ha demostrado que la terapia de conversión es ineficaz y traumatizante física y psicológicamente para quienes se ven obligados a soportarla. Esta llamada “terapia” no solo ha sido ampliamente desacreditada en la profesión médica, sino que se ha demostrado que causa un daño significativo a quienes son sometidos a ella, incluido un mayor riesgo de depresión e intentos de suicidio.

En interés de la salud y el bienestar de los puertorriqueños LGBTQ, es imperativo que se apruebe este proyecto de ley y que los puertorriqueños proscriban esta práctica bárbara. Gracias por su tiempo.

 

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NDOR2021AA

In the last year, we have seen a global pandemic claim the lives of more than half a million Americans, extreme weather and environmental disaster brought on by a warming planet, and unprecedented attacks on our secular democracy. Now more than ever, reason — not prayer or superstition — must guide us as we work to solve the complex challenges we face.

Please use this opportunity to remind lawmakers that reason and fact-based public policy form our only tenable path forward and join FFRF in calling on Congress to establish a National Day of Reason.

Led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, a number of national legislators are championing a resolution proclaiming Friday, May 7, as an annual National Day of Reason. Other sponsors include Reps. Jared Huffman, Mark Pocan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jerry McNerney and Pramila Jayapal, all Congressional Freethought Caucus members.

This resolution, House Resolution 357, recognizes the central importance of reason in the betterment of humanity and makes clear the practical implications of straying from evidence-based policy by reminding us that "irrationality, magical and conspiratorial thinking, and disbelief in science have undermined the national effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the deaths of more than 555,000 people in the United States.”

Read FFRF’s full statement in support of the National Day of Reason.

Click on the red “Take Action” link below to use our simple, automated system to contact your U.S. representative and urge them to become a co-sponsor of the resolution calling for a National Day of Reason. If your representative is already a co-sponsor, make sure to instead thank them for their leadership. Personalized messages are always the most impactful (simply edit our automated message to place your stamp on it).

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