Recent FFRF Action Alerts

FFRF urged members to get involved with state/church issues in their areas by contacting local officials to put forth the secular viewpoint:

• The Clark County Board of County Councilors in Vancouver, Wash., is considering a proposal to post “In God We Trust” in the county’s main public hearing room. “A lot of times we drift away from it,” said Councilor Tom Mielke, who suggested the display.

• Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson of Indio, Calif., decided to end the Indio City Council’s practice of opening meetings with a prayer. “We need to respect all beliefs and absence of beliefs,” she said, reported in The Desert Sun. Councilman Mike Wilson has strenuously opposed the change. FFRF urged members to thank the mayor for a courageous stand.

• Two Mississippi state representatives, Tom Miles and Michael Evans, are proposing to make the bible the state book. Miles said that since Mississippi has a state bird, a state flower and even a state toy, it should have a state book, reported The Clarion-Ledger.

• New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stopped by a Sunday service at Mt. Vernon’s Grace Baptist Church on Jan. 18 to announce the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services. The office’s first effort will be a $50 million grant program.

• Ohio recently unveiled plans for Community Connectors, a program that provides funds for local networks of volunteers and organizations to mentor students in disadvantaged schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Richard A. Ross, whose department is charged with administering the program, added an unnecessary requirement: any organization that wants to participate must partner with “a faith-based organization.”

Feeling the pressure from FFRF and others, the state “clarified” its requirement to include “organizations whose mission is based on the belief that every child’s life has a purpose.”

“The change doesn’t clarify anything, it just makes the program’s requirements more confusing,” noted FFRF Legal Fellow Katherine Paige. “The principle that our lives have a purpose is distinctly religious, and ‘values’ is usually code for Christian Right values.”

“This is just as absurd as it would be to require all faith-based organizations to partner with atheistic groups that believe there is no cosmic ‘purpose of life,’ ” added Co-President Dan Barker. FFRF continues to monitor the situation.”

Boards say no to meeting prayer

Concord [Calif.] City Council meetings will stay prayerless after the council’s two-person Policy Development Committee on Jan. 12 declined to forward a council member’s proposal to start meetings with prayers. The council had stopped praying about 40 years ago.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister and Mayor Tim Grayson agreed prayer is divisive, reported the Contra Costa Times. Hoffmeister recalled that when the council allowed prayer in the 1970s, the proceedings often devolved into a “three-ring circus.”

Hoffmeister added, “I think it’s a slippery slope. There are just too many issues about who might or might not be allowed or might be offended.”

Concord resident Roylen Stack told the council she opposed prayer. “Are we going to allow Druids to come in and speak? There are a whole bunch of things that people believe in.”

• • •

The Easton [Pa.] Area School Board voted 5-4 on Jan. 13 against starting meetings with prayer, reported the Express-Times. Solicitor John Freund said 3rd Circuit appeals decisions are clear: Prayer will open the district up to legal challenges.

“My issue comes back to the legal issue,” said board member Robert Fehnel. “The last thing we need is more controversy.”

The district was ordered to pay $385,000 in fees and damages last year to students who won a legal challenge that let them wear “I Heart Boobies” breast cancer awareness bracelets.

GAO notes drop in IRS charity exams

A Dec. 17 U.S. Government Accountability Office press release said that Internal Revenue Service budget cutbacks have led to a steady decline in the number of charitable organizations audited. In 2011 the examination rate was 0.81% compared to 0.71% in 2013. Examination rates in 2013 for individual taxpayers and corporations were 1% and 1.4%, respectively. (1.4 percent).

The Exempt Organizations division of the IRS is responsible for making sure religious institutions comply with the law. FFRF sued the IRS for failure to enforce the law against church politicking. Last August, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman granted a joint motion for dismissal but said FFRF could renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction.

Greece elects atheist prime minister

Alexis Tsipras took his oath of office today in Athens. He said he promised to uphold the Constitution and look out for the welfare of Greeks. Tsipras is an atheist, so he refused a religious oath — the custom in this Greek Orthodox country. He’s the first prime minister to do so.

News story, “Greece’s Left-Wing Prime Minister Takes Charge”

National Public Radio, 1-26-15

Freedom From Religion Foundation