Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

FFRF awarded Alexandra $200. This is an excerpt.

By Alexandra Lewis

Being skeptical about the existence of God was not something that came to me as a child.

As I grew older, the more skeptical I became of the existence and validity of God and Jesus Christ. This eventually led me to identify as agnostic. In addition to asking myself these questions, my experiences with churches (specifically black churches) have left me with mixed emotions toward religion altogether.

Part of my reasoning for reconsidering my faith is rooted in my experiences with black churches. While my objective is not to reprimand black churches, I can wholeheartedly say that some of the beliefs that are preached upon are extremely unwelcoming to certain individuals. For example, it is a common belief among most (but not all) black churches that members of the LGBTQ community are sinners. As someone who identifies not only as a person of color but also as queer, it is difficult for me to feel like I am welcomed with open arms and that I truly belong.

Hearing pastors preach about how being queer is a sin is something that I've experienced both first- and second-hand. While no one knew that I was queer, it was still terrifying for me to think that people could start furiously quoting bible scriptures at me in the event that someone found out.

The trivialization of mental illness in black churches is another reason behind my skepticism toward my previous faith. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my early teens and no matter how much praying I did before and after, I still struggled with it.

My case isn't the only one like this; many black men, women, teens and children battle with poor mental health, and are pointed in the direction of God and God only. Listening to the church and only relying on God to "save" me from my depression was something I could not do. I later realized that seeking psychiatric help alongside counseling and a good support system of family and close friends is what would help me deal with something that I struggle with every day.

Alexandra, 19, was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and raised in Charlotte, N.C.. She attends East Carolina University. Her interests include photography, reading and writing.

By Leslie Renken

This article first appeared in the Peoria Journal Star in Illinois on July 23 and is reprinted with permission.

For most of his life and for years after his death, Robert G. Ingersoll was both lauded and ridiculed in Peoria.

Today, he's all but forgotten.

"He's the most famous Peorian you've never heard of," said Cheryl Hofbauer, a member of the Peoria Secular Humanist Society. She and her husband, Ken, worked with a national organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to restore the bronze statue of Ingersoll that has stood at the back entrance of Glen Oak Park since 1911.

Removed May 10 for repairs, the restored Ingersoll statue was rededicated on Aug. 11, the 183rd anniversary of Ingersoll's birth.

Peoria's infidel

Ingersoll's advocacy of rational thinking and humanism over the tenets of organized religion earned him the nickname "Peoria's Infidel." A lawyer, philosopher, Civil War veteran and one-time attorney general of Illinois, Ingersoll's most successful endeavor was public speaking. He was a brilliant thinker whose oratory skills and personable nature served him well both as a trial attorney and a paid speaker — he typically earned $3,500 per speech. Many of his speeches tackled thorny topics of the day, including slavery and women's rights. He frequently poked fun at orthodox religion. His speeches and writings on these topics catapulted him to international fame.

"He was the top-drawing speaker in America. When he spoke, the lecture halls were standing-room only. Before fire codes, people would climb up into the rafters to see him speak," said Canton resident Connie Cook Smith, co-president and a founder of the now defunct Peoria-based Friends of Robert Ingersoll society.

Ingersoll lived in Peoria from 1857 to 1877, pivotal years in his career and life. He and his brother built a successful law practice, and Ingersoll evolved from an indifferent Christian (his father was a congregational minister) to an outspoken agnostic. His wife, Eva Parker of Groveland, was likely instrumental in his deconversion. She came from a family known for their unorthodox religious views, according to American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll, by Orvin Larson [available at ffrf.org/shop]. Ingersoll left Peoria when business and cultural interests called the family to New York.

For a long time after his death in 1899, Ingersoll remained a topic of spirited debate in Peoria. In 1983, the Friends of Robert Ingersoll society celebrated the 150th anniversary of Ingersoll's birth with a week of activities in Peoria. At one point during the festivities the head of American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, got up and slammed Ingersoll for a number of things, including not doing more to assist atheist organizations of his time. But perhaps most insulting, according to Ingersoll fans present that day, was her comparison of Ingersoll to Ronald Reagan — both were radical right-wingers, she said. As a result, the Friends of Robert Ingersoll banned O'Hair from future celebrations.

In recent years Ingersoll seems to have been forgotten for all but a few scholarly Peorians. Cook Smith has a theory why.

"Librarians of the day were very religious, and they tended to throw out his books," she said.

The recent removal of Ingersoll's statue did create some interest, however. Former longtime Peoria County Board member Roger Monroe wrote an editorial for The Community Word on May 31.

"There's no truth to the rumor that the park district is now planning to construct a statue of Karl Marx," Monroe said. "One wonders if those who believe would be permitted to have a statue of Christ at the entrance to the park on Prospect Road."

An easy fundraiser

In spite of Peoria's ambivalence for Ingersoll, there are a great many people elsewhere who still hold him in high esteem.

"Ingersoll is a beloved figure in freethought history," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "He's just an icon in our movement."

His popularity made it incredibly easy to raise $35,000 for the restoration of Ingersoll's statue. Once FFRF put the word out, donations came in from across the nation, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico.

"There were 26 people who donated $1,000 or more, and altogether close to 300 people donated," said Ken Hofbauer, who had alerted FFRF about the deterioration of the statue after meeting Jeff Ingersoll, a descendant of Robert Ingersoll, at a conference last summer.

"He saw my name tag and said 'You're from Peoria. Did you know there's a statue of Robert Ingersoll in a park there?'" said Hofbauer. "He'd seen it a couple years ago, and it looked awful. He asked me if I could hook up with someone from the park district to do something about it."

Hofbauer contacted the Peoria Park District and they got an estimate for the restoration — $60,000. Hofbauer was told it could be considered in the next year's budget, but there was some doubt about approval.

"I was told that there's never enough money to go around," said Hofbauer. That's when he started brainstorming other ways to raise the funds.

In October, Hofbauer and his wife attended the FFRF national convention, where they met Gaylor, who was familiar with the Ingersoll statue in Peoria.

"I have seen it. We held a convention in Peoria in the 1980s because of Peoria's Ingersoll ties," she said. When Hofbauer asked about the possibility of FFRF participating in a fundraising effort for the statue's restoration, Gaylor asked him to email pictures of the deterioration.

"I was horrified when I saw the photographs," she said. "I said, 'Yes, we can take this on as a fundraising project.' And soon after I sent out the notice, our members reacted with great alacrity."

In addition to money, FFRF got some advice.

"I had two members who contacted us and said 'that bid seems way too high,'" Gaylor said. "One of them, a very successful Philadelphia sculptor named Zenos Frudakis, got a bid from the foundry he's worked with for years to do the whole restoration, including coming to get it and bringing it back, for less than $30,000." FFRF sent the park district a check, and not long afterward the statue was hauled away.

Good for another 105 years

On July 15, the 14-foot tall bronze statue created by sculptor Fritz Triebel stood on concrete blocks in the Laran Bronze foundry in Chester, Pa. The restoration was nearly complete. The badly damaged base and many cracks and pinholes had been repaired, and the patina was restored.

"It looks pretty good," said Frudakis, who is supervising the restoration free of charge. "The way it's been preserved, it should last for another 105 years."

A busy sculptor of international acclaim, Frudakis was partnering with the FFRF on another project when he heard about the Ingersoll statue. A longtime fan of Ingersoll, Frudakis quickly volunteered his services.

"I have such great respect for Ingersoll," he said. "I am a humanist myself. I have spent my whole life trying to know what is real and what isn't real, and that's what he was about."

Ingersoll's message is as important today as when he was alive, said Frudakis, while speaking of recent political events.

"When you have someone get up and make a speech and say 'first I am a Christian,' and that everything comes after that . . . he doesn't believe in evolution. They are out of touch with reality. There have been hundreds of years of science — it's amazing to me. You can't just make it up because you want something consistent with your world view. And people are still fighting about these things in the schools. That scares me. That's why I donated my services. I think people should accept reality."

Bronze is one of the most permanent of all the artistic mediums, allowing the artist to make a statement for a long time. With a little help from Frudakis, for the next 100 years Ingersoll will stand on a pedestal in Glen Oak Park as though he was still speaking to an audience. Frudakis hopes future generations will learn about this famous Peorian and study his rational philosophies.

"He is the embodiment of rational thinking, not just for his time, but for our time and the future," he said.

Leslie Renken is an arts reporter for the Journal Star.

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Sharing the crank mail

Love us or hate us, FFRF gets plenty of mail, and this month's hate mail is all via email. Here is this month's Crank Mail, printed as received.

FFRF: You people are the spawn of the earth. Just because you have a difference of opinion, you have no right to be assholes. Just as you have a right to be ignorant, they have a right to believe. My father was hit with a mortar round in Vietnam. He has a cross on his grave. I catch one of you taking it off, you will visit satan you piece of shit. — Daniel Cook

Your organization: I pray you children of Satan burn in HELL! I would do anything possible to Destroy you creatures! — Thomas Greene

Sussex county: Keep your opinions out of our state and especially out of our county. We are a conservative, religious county. The Constitution was based on biblical values. We really do not care what you think of what we do with him our own County. — Andrew Riggins

Hell: Y'all some hell bound ass holes — Mark Wallace

Religion: Prayer is by choice not forced apon people. And if you got a problem with it then fuck you. — Chris Ritchie

FFRF: As a member of our local school board, I take great offense to FFRF attempting to force their beliefs upon local school boards. As noted, you have 200 members from the state of Kentucky which is a very minuscule number of Kentucky residents. As a matter of fact, that is fewer people than voted for me in the last school board election. I was elected to ensure that the children of our county receive the best education possible according to our local morals, ethics, values and beliefs!!!! I will not sway in those local morals, ethics, values and beliefs because a group such as yours from another state or any other entity that attempts to dictate to the citizens of America how to educate their kids. — Bill Clift

Sign: Just read an article in my local paper regarding your hideous group trying to have a sign removed from a small town in Texas. This sign has been there for many years, and YOU need to go away, and leave things alone. Go find a REAL cause to fight. It's groups like you that leave me thinking, there must be something lacking in your lives. You're pathetic!!! — Suzie Shaw

Ark Encounter: You people really need to pay attention to this. We should not limit our children's exposure to any educational experience whether or not YOU feel it is religious in nature. The Ark Encounter is an historic and record-breaking structure (largest timber frame structure in the world). Stop fear mongering and embrace knowledge. — Mariah Custer

Donation: I read what you stand for and this organization is a disgrace. For one thing the State is to stay out of religion and so far the state has interfered in religion but again you organization is to stupid to understand. But again from mentally ill people who don't know their ass from their heads.


Why?: The whole reason out county is in the sharpe it is right now is because groups such as you want God removed from everything. Do you not understand the reason the first colonist that came here were looking for a place to worship that was not corrupt? And all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of a church who all studied the scriptures just to make sure what they were doing was not violating God's will? Your group is part of the nations problem and if you cannot be part of solution you need to leave.

Hell is truth seen to late. — Terry Melton

It is with great sadness that FFRF reports the death on July 5 of longtime atheist and feminist activist Cleo Fellers Kocol, 90, a Lifetime Member of FFRF.

Cleo was born in Cleveland on Jan. 12, 1927, and was always glad to share a birthday with Jack London, as her beliefs often echoed his. She grew up in a nonreligious household and followed proudly in her mother's intrepid feminist footsteps. After high school, she worked for the Department of the Navy during World War II and then as a medical secretary, doctor's assistant and assistant hospital administrator.

When Cleo was 43, she married Hank Kocol, a health physicist. Her feminism and atheism came to the fore when she and Hank lived in New Jersey in the 1970s and joined FFRF and the American Humanist Association. She served on AHA's national board and chaired its feminist caucus for many years and was AHA's Humanist Heroine in 1988. Cleo has a patio stone with her and Hank's name engraved on it in the courtyard of Freethought Hall.

The Kocols moved to Washington state in 1979 and became part of a weekly Sunday picket at the Mormon Temple in Bellevue to protest the church's opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. She and 20 others were arrested in 1980 for chaining themselves to the temple gates to stop Mormon President Spencer Kimball from entering, the first of her three civil disobedience arrests. The other two actions took place in Washington, D.C., in front of the White House and at the Federal Building in Seattle.

Moving to California, Cleo and Hank became charter members of Atheists and Other Freethinkers, started a highway cleanup project and were active in Humanists of Greater Sacramento Area. In Roseville, Calif., she and her husband started and co-chaired for 13 years the Humanists of Sun City, Roseville.

Cleo was an award-winning poet, an avid scrabble player and active in her community. She traveled extensively and enjoyed reading, good movies and "small dinner parties with good talk."

In the early 1980s, Cleo wrote and performed three different hour-long women's history shows, spotlighting Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Sanger and other feminists.

She was commissioned by the Navy to write and perform a short play about "Amazing" Grace Hopper, a computer pioneer and one of the first women Navy commodores, who later rose to the rank of rear admiral. Cleo's memoir The Last Aloha was published in 2015. It details her humanism and feminism and life with Hank, from their meeting in 1970, to their "carrying forth the freethinker's word," to his death in 2013.

"I write because the answers to the questions posed seem like pure common sense and because the Religious Right has gotten a stranglehold on our country, although they hide their presence behind euphemisms," Cleo wrote. "They pretend not to be anti anything, but they certainly are anti-woman, anti-nontheists, and anti-common sense. They, by the voting public's apathy, have taken over Congress, and we in the secular movement will come to regret it if we sit on our hands."

Bill Teague, who designed and carved FFRF's first "Atheists in Foxholes" monument, died at the age of 90 on July 9 at Bill Nichols Veterans hospital in Alexander City, Ala. He donated his body to Anatomical Research at the University of Alabama–Birmingham.

Bill carved the monument that resides in the piney woods next to FFRF's southern Freethought Hall near Munford, Ala., which is overseen by its chapter, the Alabama Freethought Society. A second "Atheists in Foxholes" monument was later carved and now sits outside Freethought Hall, the FFRF office in Madison, Wis.

The tribute to nonreligious servicemen and women was suggested by FFRF's principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, and also expresses the hope that "humankind may learn to avoid all war." As a veteran, Bill took special interest in making the monument a reality.

Bill was born in Montgomery, Ala., on Sept. 5, 1925, to Arthur Clyde and Mary Evelyn Bible Teague. He was a veteran of World War II, joining the service in February 1943. He served on four ships that participated in support of five invasions in the Pacific, beginning at the Solomon Islands and ending at Okinawa. After his discharge, he continued a life at sea, sailing on more than 30 merchant ships into almost every port in the world.

Bill received his chief engineer license, which qualified him to sail ships of any horsepower or tonnage. After retiring, he operated his infamous "Hobby Shop." He built anything from the tiniest objects to the massive concrete monument in Panther Park that replicates the state of Alabama. Bill and his wife Betty were contributors to the Abe Brown scholarship fund, mostly by donations from recipients of repair work performed by Bill. They also funded individual scholarships. Bill performed assistance to the city of Eclectic, Ala., with minor to major repairs. Most notable are the star shaped signs welcoming visitors to the city and the monuments and improvements to Panther Park. They were lifetime members of the Elmore County Humane Society and members of the Capri Community Film Society of Montgomery.

The Teague family came to Eclectic in 1947 and started Teague's soft drink business. Several years after the business was closed, Bill donated the building and hobby shop to the city with the intent for it to be used as the city library. Bill is survived by his wife, a brother, a sister, a sister-in-law, two stepdaughters and a brother-in-law.

"Bill was secular 'salt of the Earth,' a stalwart of the Alabama FFRF chapter and remarkably talented, hardworking and kind," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "He will be greatly missed."

Wayne A. Hensler enjoyed life while he could because he knew there was no afterlife.

Wayne, 87, died on June 15 at Rainbow Hospice Inpatient Center of Johnson Creek, Wis.

But he left behind what he hoped would be a legacy for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren: freethought billboards. For several years Wayne sponsored FFRF billboards around south-central Wisconsin that said, "Enjoy Life Now: There Is No Afterlife."

Since 2010, he paid to have the billboard message he coined placed once a year somewhere in rural Wisconsin and expressed hope that other FFRF members might be "inspired" to place similar messages in their areas on behalf of FFRF.

Wayne was born on Aug. 4, 1928, in the town of Portland, Wis., the son of Emil and Vera (Dochadis) Hensler. He graduated from the Farm Short Course at the University of Wisconsin. After finishing his education, he purchased and operated his own farm in the town of Lake Mills, Wis., and later bought a hog farm in Waterloo, Wis. On Aug. 22, 1953, he married Bernadine Balmer in Waterloo and the couple raised two daughters. He joined FFRF in 1985 and became a Lifetime Member in 2006.

Wayne prided himself on being a freethinker, traveler, hog farmer and always living life his way. Regarding the billboards he sponsored, Wayne hoped they would bring a bit of cheer to those who saw them.

"It's something that will make people think a little bit, and maybe help them make a little more joy in life," he said. "With all these signs, especially the religious ones — God this and Jesus that — this is kind of counteracting that kind of thing."

Hensler grew up in a religious family. His grandfather, a German immigrant, "got so wound up reading the bible all the time, he actually got to believing he could heal people." His Lutheran mother always wanted him to sit with her in the front pew, but he wouldn't.

Hensler sometimes asked religious friends if they believe in ghosts. "They say, 'Oh no!' Then I ask them why they pray to the father, the son and the holy ghost, and they just look at me," he said.

Wayne thought the key to success in life was good old-fashioned common sense. With a smile, he said he would tease people by asking, "Why should I go to church? I don't want to go to heaven. I don't want to be with you people. Can't you get that in your head?

"We will certainly miss this octogenarian activist," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "There was always a chuckle in his voice when we conspired over the phone on our plans for the next billboard. Wayne definitely made my life more enjoyable and his message is a wonderful legacy."

Wayne is survived by his daughters Judi (Norman) Eggert of Waterloo and Peggy (Fred) Schwartz of Helenville, Wis.; nine grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, two brothers and three sisters.

Wayne's "unholy" trinity is made up of life, death and "hoping someone remembers you. That's all that life is about. That's my philosophy anyway."

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Secular invocations: David Suhor

The Satanic Temple
West Florida
Pensacola, Fla.,
City Council
July 14, 2016

The text of the invocation was originally written by Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple. The invocation was delivered by David Suhor, a musician, activist, teacher and co-founder of The Satanic Temple West Florida.

Suhor sang it to an altered version of Albert Malotte's famous and beautiful melody for the "Lord's Prayer" (1935).

This was his fifth invocation before local elected boards. David is also a plaintiff in FFRF's lawsuit against the city of Pensacola for the exclusive display of the "Bayview Cross," a huge Latin cross in a local public park.

Let us stand now,
unbowed and unfettered
by arcane doctrines
borne of fearful minds in darkened times.
Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse
to eat of the Tree of Knowledge
and dissipate our blissful
and comforting delusions of old.
Let us demand
that individuals be judged for their concrete actions,
not their fealty to arbitrary social norms
and illusory categorizations.
Let us reason our solutions
with agnosticism in all things,
Holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true,
Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority
that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All.
That which will not bend must break,
and that which can be destroyed by truth
should never be spared its demise.
It is Done. Hail Satan.

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Join FFRF at the 2016 National Convention

Time is winding down to FFRF's 39th annual convention!

With a roster full of great speakers, this year's convention is sure to please. Such freethinking dignitaries as Lawrence Krauss, Susan Jacoby, Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne highlight the Oct. 7–9 convention in the great city of Pittsburgh.

Recently added to the speakers' list is Nadia Duncan, who took first place in FFRF's college essay contest for persons of color. Read her essay on Page 12 of this issue. She was awarded $3,000 by FFRF.

Friday night will begin with opening remarks and music by FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker. Then FFRF will honor a deserving candidate for the inaugural Henry H. Zumach Freedom From Fundamentalism Award before commencing with the evening's speakers.

On Saturday, you'll have the opportunity to get books signed by Jacoby, Coyne and Barker prior to the banquet dinner. After dinner, there will be a drawing for "clean" money, followed by a brief concert at the piano by Barker, and the evening will conclude with Dennett's keynote speech.

Register today! FFRF's block of rooms will not be held past Sept. 12. See "Hotel info" below for more information on lodging.

We can't wait to see you in Pittsburgh!

More information can be found at ffrf.org/outreach/convention.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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