Mobile Menu

Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

Readers might be surprised to see a striking full-page ad headlined “Joy to the World” on Christmas Day in the Wisconsin State Journal, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wis.

Why surprised? Because the advertisement was placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), which is based in Madison.

The catch? Underneath the headline are “three wise men” (Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) accompanied by the Statue of Liberty, who are all gazing adoringly at a manger holding . . . the Bill of Rights.

A headline under the graphic heralds: “The Bill of Rights is born.”

FFRF’s ad, which sends greetings of “the Winter Solstice Season — the real reason for the season” — also wishes a happy birthday to the Bill of Rights, which was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791.

The state/church watchdog invites readers to “Help defend our imperiled Bill of Rights,” references President Trump’s appointments of extremists to more than a quarter of the federal judiciary, and notes that “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All” will be ensured by preserving the U.S. Constitution, a godless document.

A quote by FFRF’s principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor (1926-2015), a well-known Wisconsin firebrand, reminds readers, “There can be no true religious liberty, without the freedom to dissent.”

The Bill of Rights “Nativity,” designed by artist Jake Fortin, now appears in December as a Winter Solstice display around the country, including in several state capitol buildings, to counter Christian Nativity scenes. The irreverent display traditionally also appears in the Wisconsin state Capitol, along with a gilt sign quoting Gaylor that says there are no gods and urging “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, May Reason Prevail.” The Capitol is closed during the pandemic to discourage public gatherings, and FFRF is looking forward to placing the displays once again in December 2021.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including 1,400-plus members 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.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the proud recipient of the 2020 Ebenezer Award, annually bestowed by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Roman Catholic ultraconservative outfit.

The fund conferred this honor upon FFRF after the national state/church watchdog properly persuaded a public school in Pratt, Kan., to stop enlisting young students to support a Christian ministry seeking to convert children by offering them Christmas presents.

FFRF faced stiff competition. It was in good company, since the runners-up included New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, all of whom promulgated public health orders to protect the lives and health of a combined tens of millions of Americans. They were nominated because those orders applied equally to religious worship, which has been shown to spread the coronavirus at a fearful rate.

The Becket Fund, of course, did not mean to be kind in bestowing this award, saying “America’s most notorious grinches, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a noted anti-Christmas activist group, has found a way to steal presents from children.”

It is true that FFRF stopped the public school’s partnership with a Christian ministry called Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian organization run by Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, runs Operation Christmas Child, a “shoebox ministry” whose purpose is to convert children in the developing world to Christianity. The ministry describes itself as “a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship — transforming the lives of children and their families around the world through the Good News of Jesus Christ!” That isn’t charity, but predation. There are many secular charities with no ulterior motives that exist solely to help children or families in need with which public schools may partner. Yes, FFRF proudly stopped a public school from taking part in a campaign to convert children to evangelical Christianity because doing so is inappropriate and unconstitutional.

This is not all the school was doing. The vice principal was also abusing his secular authority to impose his brand of conservative Christianity on a captive audience of students, leading them in prayer and using the morning announcements to read bible verses and preach. He said, “We need to remember to give all the glory to God, whether others agree with it or not, and I don't care if I offend anyone by saying that.” In other words, he knew that what he was doing was wrong. FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to stop this abuse, and the superintendent stepped in to fix things.

Why did Becket Fund leave these facts out of its press release?

The Becket Fund’s full name is The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. If it truly believed in religious liberty, it would be fighting this gross violation alongside FFRF, instead of bestowing mock honors.

“The award shows that the Becket Fund is intent on codifying religious privilege in the law and is willing to ignore facts and reality to do so,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who has debated Becket personnel a number of times.

Becket’s naming of FFRF to receive the “Ebenezer Award” is actually an admission that its true aim is dismantling the constitutional principle of separation between church and state. If the Becket Fund were fighting for genuine religious liberty, instead of religious privilege, it would be thanking FFRF for keeping divisive religion out of our public schools.

So, from FFRF to Becket, thank you for showing your true colors. This is an “award” we’ll cherish.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a motion for summary judgment in its federal case against a Texas justice of the peace who regularly foists prayer upon his courtroom attendees.

FFRF originally challenged the courtroom prayers in a lawsuit filed in March 2017, and due to various technical reasons refiled the case against Montgomery County Judge Wayne Mack last year with an anonymous local attorney acting as co-plaintiff. The state/church watchdog and Attorney “John Roe” are now asking for a swift decision to halt the unconstitutional practice.

The plaintiffs assert that Mack has abused his authority as a judge to illegally coerce attorneys, litigants and other citizens into participating in his courtroom prayers.

“Judge Mack’s courtroom-prayer practice is unconstitutionally coercive of those who appear in his courtroom,” the motion says. “Because Judge Mack’s court sessions coerce court participants into a religious practice, he has violated one of the strongest most fundamental commands of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Mack, a formerly licensed minister who attended Jackson College of Ministries, where he planned to major in theology, made the unprecedented decision as a judge to solicit chaplains to open his court sessions with prayer, a practice not replicated by any other court in the country. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the chaplains in the program, and the prayers they deliver, have reflected Mack’s personal Christian beliefs. By spring 2015, after receiving scrutiny from FFRF, which lodged a formal complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Mack began revising his courtroom prayer practice. Now, after attorneys have indicated their presence in the courtroom and after the docket has been called, but before Mack has entered, the bailiff gives a brief introductory statement describing the prayer protocol. This announcement is supposed to include a statement that those opposed to prayer may leave the courtroom without affecting the outcome of their cases, although it's been inconsistently incorporated. Mack then enters the courtroom, mere moments after the bailiff’s announcement, and after his introduction, the chaplain leads a prayer. Anyone leaving the courtroom becomes conspicuous and the courtroom doors are often locked during the prayer.

FFRF co-plaintiff John Roe has been present in Mack’s courtroom on many occasions in recent years, and on each of these occasions, he was exposed to a courtroom prayer led by a Christian chaplain. Roe objects to any government official dictating when or how he prays. In mid-June 2017, while Roe was in the courthouse but not yet in the courtroom, the clerk of court entered the room and instructed Roe and the litigant that they “need[ed]” to enter the courtroom to participate in the prayer. This wasn’t framed as a request, but as a demand. Roe complied because he believes that publicly registering his objection to the courtroom-prayer practice would jeopardize his business, since it would bias Mack against him and his clients.

Now, Roe regularly declines 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 elects 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’s motion makes several arguments, including that plaintiffs have standing to pursue their claims, that Mack’s prayer practice is unconstitutionally coercive and that its primary purpose and effect is religious. FFRF also notes that Mack’s practices cannot be justified by citing a history of such courtroom abuses and cannot be compared to legislative prayer.

FFRF seeks a judgment declaring that Mack’s courtroom prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause and awards to plaintiffs of their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

“Mack’s actions remain constitutionally beyond the pale,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “No other person in the country, fortunately, has had to undergo the religiously coercive ordeal our plaintiff has been subjected to.”

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-counsels. Mack, as Montgomery County 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 Freedom From Religion Foundation has 33,000 members and several chapters all over the United States, including more than 1,400 members and a chapter in Texas.

Blasphemy2020

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is cheering the U.S. Senate’s approval by unanimous consent of a resolution seeking the global repeal of blasphemy and related laws.

The Senate passed SR 458 on Saturday, Dec. 19. The U.S. House approved a similar resolution earlier this month, HR 512, which passed 385-3. Both resolutions specifically note that “secularists” are frequent victims of such laws.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, spoke on the floor of the House: “With House Resolution 512, we act today to stand up for religious and intellectual freedom, in a world gone mad with religious discrimination, religious oppression and religious violence.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased that both houses of Congress have recognized the importance of the issue.

“Blasphemy laws around the world have been relentlessly used to curb freedom of thought — and we freethinkers have borne the brunt,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor remarks. “These anti-blasphemy resolutions by Congress will put theocratic regimes on notice.”

Blasphemy laws are still astonishingly common. More than 70 countries across many regions maintain these archaic rules, punishable by life imprisonment and death, as well as often violent extrajudicial retribution from other citizens. As FFRF has long pointed out, blasphemy is a victimless crime — with blasphemy laws ironically creating many innocent victims.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation celebrates this achievement, but notes that the fight against blasphemy laws is far from over. FFRF will continue to work to repeal such laws around the globe until they are confined to the dustbin of history, where they duly belong.

11Libertyville2020JPG

 

FFRF has installed a Bill of Rights “Nativity” cutout once again in a Chicago suburb.

The irreverent exhibit, displayed at Cook Memorial Park in Libertyville, Ill., depicts Founders Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington gazing adoringly at a “baby” Bill of Rights in a manger while the Statue of Liberty looks on. A sign beside the tongue-in-cheek Nativity, created by artist Jacob Fortin, states:

“Happy Winter Solstice. At this Season of the Winter Solstice, we honor reason and the Bill of Rights (adopted Dec. 15, 1791).” At the bottom, it reads: “Keep State & Church Separate.”

Occurring this year on Monday, Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice marks the shortest, darkest day of the year, heralding the symbolic rebirth of the sun. It has been celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with festivals of light, evergreens, gift exchanges and seasonal gatherings. The Bill of Rights — the document on which our freedoms are based — also came into being during this season.

This display first went up three years ago to counter a life-size Christian creche and an 8-foot tall menorah have been placed in the park for several years.

“We’d much prefer that government property, judicial or otherwise, be free from religion — and irreligion,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But if a devotional Nativity display is allowed, there must be ‘room at the inn’ for all points of view, including irreverence and freethought.”

FFRF is grateful for FFRF Metropolitan Chicago chapter (FFRFMCC) Director Tom Cara for diligently securing a permit for this display and Chicago chapter Board Member Steve Foulkes for installing the display.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national freethought association dedicated to keeping state and church separate, with more than 33,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including over 1,000 members and its Metropolitan Chicago chapter in Illinois.

NJSolstice2020

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Solstice display has again been erected in a New Jersey town.

Its Bill of Rights “Nativity” exhibit, which depicts Founders Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, along with the Statue of Liberty, gazing adoringly at a “baby” Bill of Rights in a manger, went up over the weekend in Maplewood’s Ricalton Square and will be there through the new year.

The exhibit was placed there for the first time in 2018 to balance multiple religious expressions in this square, such as the town Christmas tree, a local church’s manger and a local synagogue’s menorah.

1NJSolstice2020

FFRF extends a warm thanks to local member Steve Merhson for organizing and installing the display.

“Religious displays can’t be allowed to monopolize the public space,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says. “As we always say, if a governmental body creates a public forum for religion, there must be room at the inn for dissenting viewpoints.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the constitutional separation of state and church, with over 33,000 members across the country, including 600 in New Jersey.

1AndrewSeidelPressSmallAndrew L. Seidel, FFRF’s director of strategic response, has written an op-ed for one of FFRF’s hometown newspapers, The Capital Times, about two state legislators’ childish installation of an illegal religious display in Wisconsin’s Capitol building. In defiance of Gov. Tony Evers’ wise decision not to display a holiday tree in the rotunda this year because it is closed to the public due to the pandemic, two lawmakers, Reps. Paul Tittl and Shae Sortwell, put up their own tree. Seidel writes:

Whimsy and irony may abound when Christian legislators put up a heathen tree, but their lawless methods are more serious. Tittl and his colleagues ignored and broke state rules and Capitol rules to erect their tree, once again making it seem as if some legislators believe themselves to be above the law. It's a particularly shameless appearance when we think back to how brutally these rules have been enforced against people with legitimate issues to protest.

This is also a deliberate violation of that hallowed principle that America was founded on: the separation of state and church. They are using the power of a secular government office — power that belongs to We the People — to promote their personal religion (if mistakenly promoting heathen customs in the process). It is this simple rule embodied in that separation that guarantees true religious liberty. There is no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion.

It’s since been reported that after the tree was taken down, Tittl and Sortwell replaced it, calling it a “peaceful protest.” Seidel points out that while these proselytizing lawmakers continually lament their so-called “war on Christmas,” this war on the rule of law cannot continue.

Read the full article online.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is again inappropriately proselytizing to you and your fellow Mississippians — and needs to hear your opposition.

Reeves has declared Sunday, Dec. 20, a “Statewide Day of Prayer, Humility, and Fasting” and is encouraging you and other citizens to join in prayer and read from the bible.

“We know there is power in prayer,” Reeves said during a Facebook Live event announcing the proclamation. “As we have done throughout the history of the country, we will go to the Lord and ask for His protective hand over us as we conclude the year 2020 and as we enter the year 2021.” He also began and ended the announcement with Christian prayers by two clergymen. FFRF has written to him previously about two similar abuses of his office this year to promote religion.

Ironically, he has failed to use his civil authority to issue mandates that will help stem the pandemic, yet feels free to exhort you to pray and to engage in unconstitutional endorsements of religion.

Read FFRF’s full letter to Gov. Reeves.

Tell Gov. Reeves to get off his knees and get to work! (Feel free to add your own language.)

TAKE ACTION!

GrundyCounty2020

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has once again installed its secular holiday display at an Illinois courthouse.

A Bill of Rights “Nativity” display has been set up by FFRF Member Will Meyer (pictured above) next to a Christian Nativity scene on the grounds of the Grundy County Courthouse and will be available for public viewing through the new year. This exhibit has gone up annually during the Solstice season since 2015 when the Grundy County sheriff, who manages the courthouse grounds, adopted a formal policy allowing individuals and groups to place displays on an equal basis.

The irreverent cutout by artist Jacob Fortin depicts Founders Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington gazing adoringly at a “baby” Bill of Rights in a manger while the Statue of Liberty looks on. A sign beside the tongue-in-cheek Nativity states:

“Happy Winter Solstice. At this Season of the Winter Solstice, we honor reason and the Bill of Rights (adopted Dec. 15, 1791).” At the bottom, it reads: “Keep State & Church Separate.”

Occurring this year on Monday, Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice marks the shortest, darkest day of the year, heralding the symbolic rebirth of the sun. It has been celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with festivals of light, evergreens, gift exchanges and seasonal gatherings. The Bill of Rights — the document on which our freedoms are based — also came into being during this season.

“We’d much prefer that government property, judicial or otherwise, be free from religion — and irreligion,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But if a devotional Nativity display is allowed, there must be ‘room at the inn’ for all points of view, including irreverence and freethought.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the largest national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) with over 33,000 members and several chapters all over the country, including more than 1,000 members and a Chicago chapter in the state of Illinois. The organization works to protect the constitutional separation between religion and government.

 

Please help thwart a constitutionally dubious bill pending in the Ohio Legislature.

The House recently passed HB 473, a bill that would allow state officials to place the phrase “With God, All Things Are Possible” alongside the state seal. The bill is up for a hearing in front of a Senate committee tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 16. Please take a moment to tell the members of that committee why you oppose this bill.

Regrettably, “With God, All Things Are Possible,” a verse from the New Testament, Matthew 19:26, is the official motto of the state of Ohio (and legal challenges have been unsuccessful). Adopting the sectarian religious phrase as an official motto does not make it any less religious. It was wrong to select this divisive phrase as the state motto — and placing it alongside the state seal compounds that mistake.

HB 473 will be considered by the Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee at a hearing tomorrow. Even if these are not your senators, please take a moment to email the members of this committee to tell them that you oppose HB 473 and want the state seal to remain secular so that it represents all Ohioans, not just Christians. According to the Pew Research Center, 27 percent of Ohioans are not Christian, and that number has been growing every year.

Please feel free to use our automated system to email members of this Senate committee. You may use our suggested talking points, or write your own. For best results, keep your messages polite and succinct.

TAKE ACTION!

WarrenMichigan

A Freedom From Religion Foundation seasonal banner in Warren, Mich., has been stolen.

The display, which read “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia,” was installed just a few days ago near the intersection of Mound and Chicago roads. A complaint about the theft has been filed with local police.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, has created a special fund (donors may choose Resurrection Fund in the designation dropdown at ffrf.org/donate), for when its “equal time” displays on public forums are vandalized or removed.

“This is not just a criminal offense but also a thought crime,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Why is our irreverent and cheerful greeting so threatening to some believers that they have to erase our free speech?”

Saturnalia, observed during the time of the Roman Empire, was one of the largest of the Winter Solstice festivities, and many Christmas traditions are based on it. The slogan on FFRF’s banner is a riff on “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and is meant to remind the public of the real “reason for the season”: the Winter Solstice.

This is not the first time that FFRF has had a display vandalized or stolen in Michigan. Several years ago, FFRF erected a banner in Warren reading, in part, “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, Let Reason Prevail.” That banner was trashed within 48 hours. After a local FFRF member repaired the damage, the banner was stolen. This is the first time the Saturnalia display has been filched since it was moved to its current location near a Christian Nativity scene.

FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the Macomb County Road Commission back in 2008 requesting an investigation into the placement and permit of a nearly 10-foot-tall crèche at the site where the FFRF banner is now displayed. The commission determined that the person who installed the Nativity in the median of a highway had never received a proper permit and ordered him to remove it. After a lengthy court battle, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said any individual or organization could apply for a permit to put up a display. That’s when FFRF arranged for a banner to be put up alongside the Christian Nativity.

FFRF thanks local members Doug Marshall and Scott Elliott for making these displays possible.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog with approximately 33,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including more than 700 in Michigan.