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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

September 09, 2021

Theocracy in America

Biden Shutterstock

The Freedom From Religion Foundation strongly supports President Biden’s announcement of a sweeping vaccine mandate, a move that will reportedly affect as many as 100 million Americans.

The state/church watchdog celebrates this triumph of reason over the cacophony of unscientific anti-vaxx noise throughout the country. Eligible Americans refusing to get vaccinated has led to another major Covid surge that was entirely preventable.

Thanks to modern science, we have vaccines that we know are safe and effective. For the well-being of those who cannot get vaccinated, including young children, as well as for overworked health care workers, it is imperative for the federal government to require as many eligible Americans to get vaccinated as it is legally able to.

Unfortunately, Biden’s order will allow those under the mandate to apply for a religious exception to the requirement.

“Religious vaccine exemptions are morally and legally wrong,” points out FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel. “Vaccine refusal isn’t a matter of religious freedom because religious freedom does not include a right to harm others, risk other people’s lives, or spread a lethal virus.”

FFRF is based in Madison, Wis., and has recently pushed for vaccine and mask requirements by the local government, university and school board. Biden’s declaration will help those entities — as well as numerous others around the country — make the right choice.

It is past time for Americans to listen to science and reason.

Image via Shutterstock by BiksuTong

Dan BarkerBy Dan Barker

Editor’s Note: For the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is repurposing a column from its Freethought Today newspaper that FFRF Co-President Dan Barker wrote in the immediate aftermath of the horror and that remains as relevant today.

Would you buy a used car from a guy wearing a button that says, “‘I’m an Honest Salesman”?

That’s how I feel about those T-shirts that say, “Proud to be an American.” If you are truly honest, or truly American, you don’t need such fanfare — displays that actually raise the possibility of the opposite — because well, of course, you’re honest, and, of course, you’re proud to be an American. Why bring it up?

They must be bringing it up because they are insecure. Our country has been attacked, many feel afraid and vulnerable, so they wave flags, recite the Pledge and pray “God Bless America.” This feels like brave action, but it is only an illusion that masks feelings of helplessness.

Many of us love this country without the fanfare. My family, like many millions of good Americans, does not believe in God, so we could never honestly say “In God We Trust” or recite the religious Pledge of Allegiance in good conscience, even if we did want to jump on the jingoistic bandwagon.

Where did this doctrine of “unification” come from? What do we think will happen if Americans are not united? America never will be unified, and that’s what we should be proud of. The original motto of the United States, chosen by the nation’s Founders, is “E Pluribus Unum” (“From many, one”), not the 1956 “In God We Trust” nervously adopted during the Cold War against “godless communism.”

“E Pluribus Unum” does not mean “United, we stand.” It means “Divided, we stand.” We are divided into 50 different state governments. We are divided into multiple religious, philosophical, cultural and political factions — yet we stand as a nation. We don’t have to agree. We should wear our disagreements as a badge of honor.

Our Founders were fiercely divided on most issues. James Madison vehemently argued against congressional chaplains. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, also wrote that the words of Jesus were a “dunghill.” Benjamin Franklin called for prayers at the Constitutional Convention, but only mustered interest from three or four delegates — so they said no prayers. Nor did they pledge allegiance to a flag or hold hands singing “God Bless America.”

Yet they manufactured a country that stands as a single nation, in spite of their differences. They never wanted to force unity of thought.

Americans who don’t believe in the foisted motto “In God We Trust” are just as patriotic and just as American as those who do.

NYT Ad Sept 2021The Freedom From Religion Foundation is running a full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times asking people to counter the religiously inspired war on women’s rights.

The advertisement features a sketch of a “handmaid” in a reference to Margaret Atwood’s classic. “Roe v. Wade is in grave peril,” it warns.

The ad spotlights the recent egregious Texas abortion prohibition — and the U.S. Supreme Court’s nod to the anti-women measure.

“The Supreme Court majority ominously signaled its stunning hostility to reproductive rights by cruelly refusing to block the draconian ban on abortion in Texas,” it states. “It has also agreed to review an unconstitutional Mississippi ban.”

And the ad puts the national anti-abortion campaign in the full context.

“Emboldened Christian nationalists in state governments have ramped up their relentless, religiously motivated war on abortion,” it cautions. “Our federal judiciary has been stacked with Trump-appointed extremists.”

The ad calls on New York Times readers to mobilize in defense of secular values.

“Join FFRF in defending the treasured constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and in our call for court reform,” it concludes. “Support FFRF in our vital work for emancipation from religious dogma.”

FFRF is placing the advertisement in the country’s most prominent paper because it is deeply concerned about the state of women’s rights in the country.

“Things haven’t been this dire in a long time,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “‘Freethinkers need to come together to uphold the Constitution.”

The educational ad was made possible thanks to the generosity of FFRF members donating to FFRF’s Advertising Fund.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.

What does the Congressional Freethought Caucus do?

The Congressional Freethought Caucus’s mission is to:

  1. Promote public policy formed on the basis of reason, evidence, science, and strong moral values;
  2. Protect the secular character of our government by adhering to the strict constitutional principle of the separation of church and state;
  3. Oppose government discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, religious and nonreligious persons, and to champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide; and
  4. Provide a forum for members of Congress to discuss their moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys.

Why is it important for Members of Congress to join?

Our Founders prohibited governmental “establishment of religion,” protected the individual’s “free exercise” of religion, banned religious tests for public office, and protected the freedoms of speech, press, conscience and assembly in our Constitution.

Our Founders separated state and church to protect a pluralistic democracy and human rights, as well as to advance science and technology and to guard the rights of individual conscience and worship. The Congressional Freethought Caucus’ mission is to uphold these values.

The presence of the Caucus reflects the acknowledgment of a wider trend in American society: Non-religious Americans — the so-called “Nones” — are the fastest-growing demographic by religious identification, now making up more than a quarter of the country, but are vastly underrepresented in our legislatures.


Caucus Members

Jared Huffman    Rep. Jared Huffman    District: CA-2
Jamie Raskin   Rep. Jamie Raskin   District: MD-8
Steve Cohen   Rep. Steve Cohen   District: TN-9
Pramila Jayapal   Rep. Pramila Jayapal   District: WA-7
Hank Johnson   Rep. Hank Johnson   District: GA-4
Dan Kildee   Rep. Dan Kildee   District: MI-5
Zoe Lofgren   Rep. Zoe Lofgren   District: CA-19
Jerry McNerney   Rep. Jerry McNerney   District: CA-9
Eleanor Holmes Norton   Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton   District: DC
Mark Pocan   Rep. Mark Pocan   District: WI-2
Susan Wild   Rep. Susan Wild   District: PA-7
Sean Casten   Rep. Sean Casten   District: IL-6
Rashida Tlaib   Rep. Rashida Tlaib   District: MI-13
Don Beyer     Rep. Don Beyer     District: VA-8

 

Kristi NoemAbortion rights in the United States are in peril.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court shockingly refused to block a six-week Texas abortion ban and abortion bounty provision. And now, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has issued an executive order to limit abortion access in her state. Specifically, the directive prohibits the use of telemedicine for obtaining abortion medication. It also severely restricts abortion medication as a procedure.

Noem is no stranger to anti-abortion legislation. When previously signing such bills, she has clung to her faith, stating in one instance: “God created each of us and endowed all of us with the right to life.”

Noem should prioritize women’s health care by expanding reproductive care options — not banning them. If she had focused on evidence-based medicine, as health care laws in a secular nation should do, the governor wouldn’t have ordered this new abortion restriction. Medication abortion, which was first approved by the FDA in 2000, is a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy. Fewer than 0.4 percent of patients develop serious complications.

Abortion medication also democratizes abortion care. When available via mail or pharmacy, it can defray costs, anywhere from $500-$3,000, associated with transportation, child care and work arrangements. Indeed, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group of 58,000 members, released a statement declaring that abortion medication is safe and that it provides a “significant benefit” to patients.

South Dakota, an abortion-hostile state, only has one abortion clinic, creating an abortion desert for its nearly 500,000 women. For the first seven months of the pandemic, abortions in South Dakota were halted. As a consequence, some women in the state turned to potentially dangerous alternatives to terminate their pregnancies, according to abortion-rights advocates.

Abortion restrictions are not evidence-based nor do they protect women’s welfare and health. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has submitted a formal congressional testimony in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would end these medically unnecessary laws. We urge you to stand up for science and ask your member of Congress to support this crucial bill.

Gov. Noem’s anti-women and anti-science move yet again shows the need for the congressional measure.

Photo by Matt Johnson under CC BY 2.0

Williamson County

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is prodding a Tennessee county to be more inclusive.

Many Williamson County residents have in recent years called for the retirement of the existing county seal due to the Confederate battle flag displayed inside the top left of the seal. The county voted to remove the flag in October of last year but the change requires approval by the Tennessee Historical Commission, which has yet to vote on this issue. There is another problem with the current seal, however, as a county resident has informed the state/church watchdog: It includes a bible and church window, which appears to also be a Latin cross representing Christianity.

Christian religious imagery on the official Williamson County seal violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF emphasizes.

“The seal signals an endorsement of Christianity,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line has written to the Williamson County Board of Commissioners. “This ‘sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

Federal courts have ruled that religious symbols on official city logos or representations violate the Establishment Clause, FFRF adds. The Williamson County seal design is akin to numerous other unconstitutional municipal representations.

And regardless of the unconstitutionality of the seal, the county should remove exclusionary religious images from its official representations as a matter of policy, just as with the exclusionary Confederate flag image. Nearly 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are non-Christian and 24 percent practice no religion at all. By remaining neutral on matters of religion, the county would embrace the diversity of its citizens, including non-Christian religious citizens and citizens who are nonreligious.

FFRF’s arguments seem to have found receptive ears.

“If the decision made by the Tennessee Historical Commission permits alteration of the seal, Williamson County’s Commission will then consider whether to alter parts of the seal, redesign the seal in its entirety, or retire the seal,” the county’s legal counsel has recently replied. “It is not our intention for any portion of our seal to exclude any citizen or to favor any one segment of our citizenry over another. When we are in a position to consider all of our options with regard to the seal, we will give careful and serious attention to the issues raised in your letter, along with all other relevant matters, in making our final determination.”

FFRF appreciates the positive response.

“We realize that there is a formal process for a redesigned seal to be approved,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The county’s reply makes us hopeful, though, that the new seal will be truly inclusive of all Williamson County residents.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 400 members and a chapter in Tennessee. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Richard Dawkins

An intellectual giant is the interview guest this Sunday on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” TV show.

The famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is well known for his international blockbuster, The God Delusion. And you are probably aware of Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, in which he coined the word meme and which was voted by a Royal Society poll to be the most inspirational, influential science book of all time. His other books include The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, The Ancestor’s Tale and a two-volume memoir of a life in science. He now has a new work published: Books Do Furnish a Life: Reading and Writing Science.

“When it is such an exciting fact that we can explain things, to paper that over with a pseudoexplanation, a false explanation of a divine intelligence, a divine creator is just so sad,” Dawkins tells “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The episode will be airing in over a dozen cities on Sunday, Sept. 12. If you don’t live in the quarter-plus of the nation where the show broadcasts on Sunday, you can already catch the interview on the “Freethought Matters” playlist on FFRF’s YouTube channel. New shows go up every Thursday. You can also receive notifications when we post new episodes of “Freethought Matters” by subscribing to FFRF’s YouTube channel. 

Coming shows this season include interviews with The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, Professor Ryan Burge — a leading expert in the rise of the “Nones” — Jay Rosenstein, the maker of a Peabody Award-winning documentary on the Supreme Court’s first public school religion case, and Candace R.M. Gorham, author of the upcoming book, On Death, Dying, and Disbelief.

“Freethought Matters” airs in:

  • Chicago, WPWR-CW (Ch. 50), Sundays at 9 a.m.
  • Denver, KWGN-CW (Ch. 2), Sundays at 7 a.m.
  • Houston, KIAH-CW (Ch. 39), Sundays at 11 a.m.
  • Los Angeles, KCOP-MY (Ch. 13), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • Madison, Wis., WISC-TV (Ch. 3), Sundays at 11 p.m.
  • Minneapolis, KSTC-IND (Ch. 45), Sundays at 9:30 a.m.
  • New York City, WPIX-IND (Ch. 11), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • Phoenix, KASW-CW (Ch. 61, or 6 or 1006 for HD), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • Portland, Ore., KRCW-CW (Ch. 32), Sundays at 9 a.m. Comcast channel 703 for High Def, or Channel 3.
  • Sacramento, KQCA-MY (Ch. 58), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • San Francisco, KICU-IND (Ch. 36), Sundays at 10 a.m.
  • Seattle, KONG-IND (Ch. 16 or Ch. 106 on Comcast). Sundays at 8 a.m.
  • Washington, D.C., WDCW-CW (Ch. 50 or Ch. 23 or Ch. 3), Sundays at 8 a.m.

“Freethought Matters” had an array of impressive guests last season. These included: pundit Eleanor Clift, actor and FFRF After-Life Member John de Lancie of “Star Trek” “Q” fame, Professor Steven Pinker, one of the most eminent global public intellectuals, and A.C. Grayling, a prominent British philosopher and the author of about 30 books, who grappled on the show with philosophy and the pandemic. The show launched its new season last Sunday with clips from the best past interviews on the program.

Please tune in to “Freethought Matters” . . . because freethought matters.

P.S. Please tune in or record according to the times given above regardless of what is listed in your TV guide (it may be listed simply as “paid programming” or even be misidentified). To set up an automatic weekly recording, try taping manually by time or channel. And spread the word to freethinking friends, family or colleagues about a TV show, finally, that is dedicated to providing programming for freethinkers!