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 EugeneSolstice2020

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual Winter Solstice display has returned to Oregon’s premier college town.

For the third year in a row, a large Solstice banner stretches across 8th Avenue, west of Willamette Street in downtown Eugene. The display reads:

Celebrate the Solstice. TIS THE SEASON OF REASON.

The Winter Solstice, occurring this year on Monday, Dec. 21, is the shortest, darkest day of the year, signaling the rebirth of the sun and the natural new year. It’s been celebrated for millennia with festivals of light, feasts, gift exchanges and the display of evergreens, which symbolize enduring life, and, FFRF maintains, is the true “reason for the season.”

A similarly large banner has been hung up in the area in previous years that features “Christmas” and “Jesus” in large letters. Beneath were two statements: “Attend a Church of Your Choice” and “Celebrate His Birth.”

FFRF has placed its secular message in Eugene to make known the presence of the large proportion of Oregonians who are nonbelievers. In fact, Oregon has among the highest percentage of “Nones” in the country.

“We ‘Nones,’ Americans with no religion, have an important message and are an ever-expanding portion of the population and deserve equal representation in public spaces,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF thanks local FFRF member Charles Jones for his activism in getting the Solstice banner up.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,000 members in Oregon and a chapter in Portland. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is giving Solstice greetings once again in Warren, Mich.

FFRF’s irreverent “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia” banner has again been placed near the intersection of Mound and Chicago roads.

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.

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 scene 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 scene.

“If there’s going to be a public forum including religion, then there has to be ‘room at the inn’ for a freethought perspective,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF extends a warm thanks to local member and stalwart activist Doug Marshall for organizing the installation of the display.

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.

Arrows

 

In an unsurprising 8-0 decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individuals can sue federal officials for damages under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling the decision a missed opportunity to address a fundamental issue.

“RFRA is unconstitutional,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The longer that the Supreme Court treats this law as a de facto constitutional amendment, the longer it is continuing to damage the First Amendment.”

The case, Tanzin v. Tanvir, was brought before the court by three men seeking damages under RFRA. “The U.S. Supreme Court accepted a no-fly list case to decide whether federal officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacities for violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the ABA Journal reported last year.

FFRF had filed an amicus brief in the case, which argued that the disagreement over the interpretation of RFRA missed a fundamental problem: its constitutionality. FFRF pointed out that RFRA violated the separation of powers and Article V, exceeded Congress’ enumerated powers, and violated the Establishment Clause.

The Supreme Court ruled on a narrow issue in determining what type of court-ordered relief a plaintiff can receive under RFRA. In a short opinion for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said, “The question here is whether ‘appropriate relief’ includes claims for money damages against government officials in their individual capacities. We hold that it does.”

The court said that in adopting RFRA, Congress sought to counter the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in 1990 in the case Employment Division v. Smith. Congress responded by adopting a more favorable standard for religious claimants than was provided for under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. Because Congress sought to revert to a pre-Smith standard, the court looked at what types of relief were available prior to Smith.

FFRF’s amicus brief highlighted some of the consequences in allowing for damages suits under RFRA. Making individual employees liable would require public servants to evaluate whether the laws they are enforcing require a religious exemption, which is a tricky question for federal courts to answer, let alone for an individual with no legal training.

Justice Thomas noted that Congress would be free to amend the law to shield government employees from personal liability. FFRF is calling for Congress to go a step further, and to repeal RFRA in its entirety.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is once again making its freethinking presence known in the legislative heart of the Hawkeye State.

For the fourth year in a row, FFRF’s Bill of Rights “Nativity” has been installed in the Iowa state Capitol. The display depicts three Founders along with the Statue of Liberty gazing in adoration at a “baby” Bill of Rights.

A sign beside the tongue-in-cheek Nativity reads:

At this season of the Winter Solstice,

Join us in honoring the Bill of Rights, adopted on December 15, 1791, which reminds us that there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent.

Keep religion and government separate!

The exhibit made its debut four years ago in response to a Christian nativity scene that went up that year for the first time in the Capitol. Then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was among those who spoke at the opening ceremony for the religious display, lending an official air to the proceedings. Three years ago, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds attended the opening of the Thomas More Society-installed Nativity for its repeat run, as did a state representative.

“Such obvious religious pandering on the part of public officials in a governmental space cannot go unanswered,” comments FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "If blatantly devotional exhibitionism is allowed in, there must be ‘room at the inn’ for our irreverence and freethought."

This display will be available for public viewing until Dec. 18.

FFRF would like to thank member Paul Novak, an FFRF state representative, for putting up the exhibit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog organization that has over 33,000 members nationwide, including hundreds of members in Iowa.

1NHSolstice2020

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s secular Winter Solstice display has returned to New Hampshire’s capital city.

For the third year in a row, FFRF members have put up a display honoring the Bill of Rights and our secular government in Concord City Plaza. The exhibit depicts Founders Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the Statue of Liberty gazing in adoration at a “baby” Bill of Rights in a manger.

The sign on the Bill of Rights Nativity reads:

At this season of the Winter Solstice,

Join us in honoring the Bill of Rights, adopted on December 15, 1791, which reminds us that there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent.

Keep religion and government separate!

FFRF places these displays in many cities around the country during the holiday season to celebrate freethought and ensure representation of the growing number of secular Americans.

“Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season: the Winter Solstice,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Christians don't own the month of December. If there’s going to be religion in governmental forums at this time of year, then there has to be ‘room at the inn’ for nonreligious points of view.”

FFRF extends thanks to member Jack Shields and other local members for their activism in organizing the annual display. This display will be available to the public for viewing until Dec. 31.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including in New Hampshire. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

AHPD

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Metropolitan Chicago chapter have again erected two secular holiday displays around the Chicago area.

The first, a colorful cutout invoking the Founding Fathers, has returned to North School Park in Arlington Heights, Ill. It pictures Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and the Statue of Liberty gazing adoringly at a “baby” Bill of Rights in a manger. A sign beside the tongue-in-cheek Nativity reads:

At this Season of the Winter Solstice, join us in honoring the Bill of Rights, adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, which reminds us there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent. It ends with: “Keep religion and government separate!”

This is the ninth year of the display, intended to counter a Christian creche and a Jewish menorah placed at the location. A public forum area was created at the park by the Village Park District in 2012, after a Christian organization that wanted to put a Nativity scene in the park threatened a lawsuit.

The second display, pictured below, went up Monday, Dec. 7, at the Village Hall in Glenview. This is the second year for FFRF’s exhibit in this location, which debuted last year also to counter Christian Nativities.

Both of these secular displays will be available for public viewing until Dec. 28.

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

Warm thanks to FFRF Metropolitan Chicago chapter Director Tom Cara, who puts up the displays, for ensuring that the views of the 26 percent of the population that is not religious are also heard in the month of December.

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.

 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is slated to sign an extremist, anti-choice bill — and he needs to hear your opposition.

If passed, S.B. 27 would require fetal remains from abortions be cremated or buried. While pious politicians claim bills like this are intended to “honor the unborn,” we know the true intention is to place undue burden on abortion providers. These callous attempts to further restrict women’s health care based on the religious beliefs of a few cannot go unanswered.

Please contact Gov. DeWine TODAY and urge him to reject S.B. 27.

Click on the red “Take Action” link below to use our automated system to call or email DeWine’s office. Even though his history of opposition to reproductive freedom indicates he is likely to sign this bill, it is critical that secular Ohioans make their voices heard and not let him claim a mandate on this issue. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.

TAKE ACTION!

After months of downplaying COVID-19 and refusing to implement a mask mandate to curb its spread, Gov. Kevin Stitt is now calling on citizens to “fast and pray” for victims of the pandemic.

Tell Gov. Stitt that establishing an “Oklahoma Day of Fasting and Prayer” is an unacceptable religious use of his public office and to instead embrace science and reason-based policy to combat the pandemic.

Not only is it an abuse of power for Stitt to use his public office to promote his personal religion, it is unnecessary and divisive at a time when we need to come together to combat this public health crisis.

Read FFRF’s full letter here.

Click on the red “Take Action” link below to use our automated system to call or email Stitt’s office to oppose his prayer proclamation. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided. Personalized messages are always the most effective. For best results, be concise and polite.

TAKE ACTION!

1ACOVIDchurch

A 5–4 Supreme Court decision enjoining New York state’s pandemic policy that limited some church gatherings is wrong, unnecessary and portends big trouble ahead for our secular laws and policies.

As dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor warns: “Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.”

Earlier this year, the court had upheld health restrictions on church services in Nevada and California, but the vote in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York flipped. The opinion was a rebuke for Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who’d voted with the majority in the earlier rulings, but dissented in this case. The addition of archconservative Amy Coney Barrett on the court last month, replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has “dealt the chief justice a body blow,” as the New York Times put it. (Not that we should give Roberts, who indicated in his dissent that he thought the New York rules had gone too far, too much credit.)

The injunction was unnecessary
The Archdiocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregation, were situated within the red and orange zones in Brooklyn and Queens with high COVID infections, and had been restricted to 10- and 25-person capacity limits by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But in response to a lessening spread, Cuomo had already lifted the restrictions by the time the request to enjoin the governor reached the high court. With the litigants now in a “yellow zone,” they now can hold services at up to 50 percent of capacity. As Roberts pointed out in his dissent, this is more relief than their suits sought. The case is due to be heard by a court of appeals, and hasn’t been fully argued or considered, making the action by the high court especially irregular.

The decision was wrong
The majority of ultraconservatives on the court — Justices Barrett (widely speculated to have written the unsigned decision), Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — was clearly eager to act on its newfound power to squelch what it misguidedly saw as a case of “religious discrimination.” But stay-at-home orders treated religious worship more favorably than movie houses, lectures, plays or indoor sporting events, which were entirely banned. The five justices absurdly treated the temporary limitations like a national emergency — dramatically issuing a ruling minutes before midnight on Nov. 25, the eve of Thanksgiving. “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the majority chided. President Trump almost immediately tweeted the decision, adding “HAPPY THANKSGIVING.”

The heavy lifting was done by Gorsuch, whose sarcastic concurring opinion lit into the dissenters. He claimed the governor deems that “it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle or wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians [acupuncture].” Gorsuch decried the “burden on the faithful who have lived for months under New York’s unconstitutional regime unable to attend religious services [emphasis added].”

The majority’s true grievance — umbrage that governments are not labeling church services as “essential” — is revealed in Gorsuch’s concurrence: “The only explanation for treating religious places differently, seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as ‘essential’ as what happens in secular places.” Church officials and theocratic public officials have deeply resented that church gatherings have not been deemed “essential” by executives trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The majority opinion, voted on by a bloc of practicing Catholics with the exception of Gorsuch (who was raised Catholic, but now attends an Episcopalian church), goes so far as to claim that those who can’t attend Mass are at “risk of suffering further irreparable harm in the event of another reclassification.” Most of us would consider, when comparing the harm of missing in-person Mass to risking death from COVID-19, the latter to be the “irreparable harm,” but not the high court’s coterie of true believers.

Dissenters urge caution
In his temperate dissent, Roberts (also a practicing Catholic) responded to the majority and Gorsuch’s charges: “To be clear, I do not regard my dissenting colleagues as ‘cutting the Constitution loose during a pandemic,’ yielding to ‘a particular judicial impulse to stay out of the way in times of crisis,’ or ‘shelter[ing] in place when the Constitution is under attack.’” The chief justice said that no injunctive relief is needed given the changing facts, pointed out the court could act quickly on a renewed application if the shutdowns begin again, and noted that the Constitution entrusts “the safety and health of the people” to politically accountable officials.

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer underlined that New York’s regulations treat church services more favorably than gatherings with comparable risks, such as public lectures, concerts or theatrical performances.

As usual, the strongest dissent was by Sotomayor, who wrote, “Amidst a pandemic that has already claimed over a quarter million American lives, the court today enjoins one of New York’s public health measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 in areas facing the most severe outbreaks.” Citing the earlier majority opinions upholding church service restrictions, she noted they provide a “clear and workable rule”: “They may restrict attendance at houses of worship so long as comparable secular institutions face restrictions that are at least equally as strict.”

Cuomo’s policies are more lenient to houses of worship than similar activities, Sotomayor wrote, and Gorsuch “does not even try to square his examples with the conditions medical experts tell us facilitate the spread of COVID-19: large groups of people gathering, speaking and singing in close proximity indoors for extended periods of time.” She added: “The Constitution does not forbid states from responding to public health crises through regulations that treat religious institutions equally or more favorably than comparable secular institutions, particularly when those regulations save lives.”

Trouble ahead
As New York Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak points out, the ruling is “almost certainly a taste of things to come.” When Ginsburg was alive, Liptak writes, “Roberts voted with the court’s four-member liberal wing” in a number of major cases. This ruling clearly signals that the new SCOTUS majority is ready to move full steam ahead to weaponize and redefine religious liberty at the expense of the protections of the Establishment Clause separating religion from government. And the consequences, in this case, may be deadly.

The ACLU’s Daniel Mach puts it aptly, “The freedom to worship is one of our most cherished fundamental rights, but it does not include a license to harm others or endanger public health.” As the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been emphasizing since the pandemic began, Americans have the right to free exercise, but not to risk other peoples’ lives.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including over 1,700 members in New York. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation applauds the New York Attorney General’s Office announcement today that it has filed a lawsuit against the Buffalo Diocese over failure to report more than two dozen priests credibly accused of sexual assault. The lawsuit alleges that the church failed to report, supervise or monitor those predator priests.

This is only one of the eight dioceses currently under investigation for these crimes since 2018.

“It’s past time for our secular government to go after these religious criminals by holding their enablers accountable,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Our government has let the Catholic Church  ‘police’ itself, held the church above the law, and the results have been horrific.” 

FFRF applauds the prospect of justice for the countless survivors of institutional sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, and deplores its despicable record of protecting abusers and the church’s reputation at the expense of the vulnerable minors preyed upon by church officials. FFRF commends the attorney general’s willingness to stand up to this formidable, litigious defendant and encourages similar suits be brought against the other seven dioceses under investigation, and then in other states.

The lawsuit alleges that the Buffalo Diocese allowed one priest to continue ministering to children even after eight credible accusations of sexual assault of young girls. In other instances, the church allegedly classified abusers as retired, or on sabbatical or medical leave, rather than disclosing that they had been removed from ministry because they are habitual sexual predators.

“This once again makes clear what we’ve been saying for far too long,” adds FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “It’s time to quit the Catholic Church. As Dorothy Parker put it, ‘You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.’ The Church will only learn if it is held accountable by our criminal justice system and by its members exiting en masse.”

FFRF has been tracking “black collar crimes” since the late 1980s in its newspaper, Freethought Today, and published the first nonfiction book about clergy predators, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, in 1988.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including over 1,700 members in New York. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

statechurchdistancing

Personal religious beliefs cannot be the basis for decisions regarding public health policy, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has warned a Tennessee official.

According to local news reports, Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman recently recognized that requiring county residents to wear masks in public places would save lives, but declined to issue such a mandate, in part because he had not received instruction from the “Holy Spirit” to do so. Newman reportedly “take[s] big decisions to God for guidance.”

FFRF has sent a letter of complaint pointing out the inappropriateness of such considerations in government decision-making and urging the mayor to leave religion out of official deliberations relating to his secular duties.

“You took an oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution, a wholly secular document that specifically excludes religion from government,” FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker write to Newman. “You betray this oath when you condition decisions of your secular office on your personal religious beliefs or what you perceive to be the will of your deity.”

Elected officials have been given significant trust by the residents they serve, including those residents who do not share their personal religious viewpoints. Thirty-five percent of Americans are non-Christians, and this includes the more than one in four Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated. It is unacceptable and un-American for public officials to perform only those parts of their job that they believe have the rubber stamp of their personal deity, as is requiring permission from the “Holy Spirit.”

“Government decisions — especially decisions that will save citizens’ lives or risk condemning them to a breathless, wheezing death — should be based on science, reason and data,” Gaylor and Barker add. “If you are unable to meet these basic standards, you appear unfit to serve as an executive public official in our secular democracy.”

FFRF’s message to pious politicians is: Get off your knees and get to work.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 400 members and a chapter in Tennessee. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.