FFRF’s engaged membership

The typical member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is a recently retired male who has at least one degree, who votes (usually as an independent), thought his own way out of a religious background and overwhelmingly supports reproductive and women’s rights.

FFRF sent out a membership survey in late May 2015 to its 21,000 members (FFRF has since added an additional 2,500 members). More than a third (nearly 8,000) of you responded — which is statistically impressive. Offered the choice to fill out the survey online or on paper, most chose to fill out and return the paper questionnaire. Our hardworking administrative staff, which entered thousands of those surveys, just finished that project at year’s end. Now we are sharing those statistically relevant results with you.

FFRF has always billed itself as a freethought umbrella, with no label required as a litmus test. However, when asked which term best describes your freethought views, almost 84% of FFRF members picked “atheist.” “Agnostic” came in at 8% and another 8% prefer another term, such as reasonist, nonbeliever or humanist.

A vast majority of FFRF members grew up in a religious home (55%) or where at least one parent was religious (31% “mixed”). A mere 14% came from a freethought home. That nearly a third of you come from homes where one parent was nonreligious shows the value of cognitive dissonance. Not surprisingly, given the above results, 77% of you term yourself a first-generation freethinker, 17% second generation. Only 5% are third generation or more.

A plurality (48%) of members were raised in some form of Protestantism. More surprising, 29% were brought up Roman Catholic. Although about a quarter of the U.S. population traditionally has been Catholic, there’s been such a sharp drop-off that today Catholics make up only one-fifth of the U.S. population. By the way, that puts “Nones” (those 24% who indicate they are nonreligious) above Catholics! Pew Research surveys also show more than one in six Catholics today leaves the church, with nearly 13% of all Americans describing themselves as “former Catholics.”

Almost 9% of you come from a Jewish background, also disproportionate to the 1.8% in the general population. About 13% of you chose “Other.” (This category was skewed by the fact that many of these answers simply noted specific Protestant denominations, such as Baptist).

FFRF members are an educated bunch, with 96% having at least some college (14% some college, but no degree; 7% associate degree), 33% with a bachelor’s degree, and nearly 40% with at least one advanced degree (24% one master’s, 4% multiple master’s, 4% law degree, 10% Ph.D. and nearly 4% medical degree).

Asked to choose between six primary catalysts for leaving religion, 33% of you chose “Religion doesn’t make sense,” 16% science, 14% religious hypocrisy/bigotry, 6% reading skeptical authors and 4% reading the bible itself. Nearly 16% added additional comments, such as, “All of the above.” (See sidebar for a sampling of these comments.)

The average age of a member of FFRF is 62.7. The vast majority (over 90%) are at least 40 or older. Almost 12% are between the ages of 40–49, 19% 50–59, 28% 60–69, 23% 70–79. Only 12% of you have children under the age of 18 living in your household. The survey showed 57% of FFRF members are retired. The older age bracket has been consistent with FFRF surveys for almost 40 years. After nonbelievers get through college, establish careers and families, they then tend to join FFRF.

“We concentrate on providing services to younger freethinkers, particularly students, who don’t yet have the disposable income to join FFRF,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. FFRF runs three essay competitions, offers student and youth activist awards, and works closely with students and their parents to correct state/church violations in public schools.

Although 73% of you are male, you’re actively feminist: An overwhelming 73% strongly support women’s rights. We asked you, “In addition to FFRF and other secular causes, which other types of causes do you support (check all that apply)?” This question was aimed at discovering which other causes members actively support, such as via membership, donations or volunteer activities. Receiving the most “votes” was reproductive rights, checked by 79% of FFRF members, closely followed by death with dignity and environmental issues (75% each), the aforementioned women’s rights, marriage equality (72%), racial equality (64%), LGBTQ rights 63% and 64%??, peace/antiwar 50%.

“It’s fascinating to me that the most popular cause is reproductive rights, since that was the impetus for founding FFRF in the first place. It was fighting religious dogma in our civil law over the question of contraception and abortion that happened to open my mother’s and my eyes to the harm of religious sway over legislation. Apparently that epiphany is a common one,” commented Gaylor.

A full 96% identify as white or Caucasian. “We’ve started funding an annual needs-based scholarship for freethinking students of color, and we include a prompt aimed at students of color in one of our essay competitions, but we will take this result as a cue to work harder at expanding outreach,” noted Barker.

Sixty percent of you are married, 12.5% divorced, 8% cohabiting, 6% widowed, and almost 12% single, never married. About 10% identify as LGBTQ. Almost 11% of FFRF members are vegetarian or vegan (compared to about 3% of the general population).

Proving there are atheists and agnostics in foxholes, 26% of FFRF members have served in the military (typically 24% in the military are nonbelievers). About 19% of FFRF members are employed in or retired from the teaching profession, and 57% are retired overall. Nearly 33% of FFRF members volunteer on a regular basis.

Thirteen percent of you have attended an FFRF convention in the past decade. We asked which area would most attract you the most: The West Coast (22%) and the Midwest (21.6%) received the most votes.

Thank you to the whopping 73% who have recommended FFRF to a friend or colleague! We were pleased that 71% found it easy to join, donate or purchase books or merchandise online.
Over 43% of you have been members for 2–5 years and 20% for 6–10 years. Almost 23% who responded had been a member for a year or less.

More than 4,900 of you chose to tell us in your own words why you joined FFRF, and we really enjoyed reading those comments, with answers such as: “You do important work,” “Strength in numbers,” “I strongly believe in the separation of church and state and want to support an organization that fights for the cause.” More than 1,700 made suggestions for projects for FFRF to undertake, from very general to very specific. FFRF and its legal department are studying these responses closely, and appreciate the suggestions.

“I’m proud to report that 96% of our members are registered voters,” said Gaylor. “All the more reason for public candidates to wake up to the changing demographics and court the secular vote.” FFRF members are mostly an independent crowd, with 21% calling themselves Independent, 36% “Progressive/Liberal,” 28.7% Democratic, 3.5% Libertarian, 2.5% Green, 3.7% “other” and 1% Republican. Comments included the candid: “I vote for the least repulsive moron.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation