Two TV commercials produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation have been rejected for airing by ABC during the Democratic debate taking place in Houston on Thursday, Sept. 12.
FFRF first tried to purchase time from ABC to run its iconic TV spot featuring Ron Reagan endorsing FFRF and describing himself as “an unabashed atheist . . . not afraid of burning in hell.” Major networks have refused to run the 30-second spot since it was produced in 2014, including ABC, NBC, CBS and even Science Discovery. (MSNBC, Comedy Central and CNN have run the ad, and it’s airing this week and next on “The Daily Show.”)
“Every year we ask the major networks to reconsider and run our commercial,” explains FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We were disappointed, but not surprised, when ABC once again refused to run the Reagan endorsement spot.”
But, Gaylor says, she was shocked that ABC next rejected a commercial largely featuring a video excerpt of a famous speech by John F. Kennedy. As a presidential candidate, JFK gave a talk to a gathering of Protestant ministers in Houston in 1960, intending to allay their fears that as a Catholic he would be beholden to the Vatican rather than to the Constitution.
In his strong remarks in favor of secular government, JFK said: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” FFRF’s commercial leads with footage from his speech, then states: “Let’s restore respect for America’s secular roots. Help the Freedom From Religion Foundation defend the wall of separation between state and church. Join us at FFRF.ORG. Freedom depends on freethinkers.”
The ad concludes with the strains of “Let freedom ring,” as FFRF’s emblematic image appears of a Lincoln penny with the words “In Reason We Trust” instead of “In God We Trust.”
FFRF produced this commercial, which first aired on “CBS This Morning” and the “Monday CBS Evening News” in 2012, in response to a remark by then-presidential candidate Rick Santorum, after he said JFK’s remark “makes me want to throw up.”
Ironically, FFRF had no trouble placing the JFK spot nationally on “ABC World News Tonight” on Sept. 24, 2016, to protest Pope Francis’ joint address to Congress.
“The deterioration of respect for the constitutional principle of separation between church and state is disheartening and alarming,” says Gaylor. “This principle is all-American. We were first among nations to separate religion from government. The Founders never prayed during the Constitutional Convention that adopted our godless and entirely secular Constitution. They insisted there could be no religious test for public office. How has this basic and precious principle become so debased in our nation that a major network feels it is too hot to handle?”
Gaylor says the American public has no idea how much censorship nonbelievers encounter in seeking to disseminate their views. Print ads have been rejected by daily newspapers, including recently by the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. FFRF’s billboards can’t “play in Peoria” and many other cities around the nation.
But Gaylor says that the blackout by national networks is the most egregious. FFRF contends it is essential for freethinking voices to be heard in order for the United States to retain its secular republic.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) with more than 30,000 active members, and is a diligent watcher on the constitutional wall of separation between state and church.