Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Grad student essay contest winners named


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 2016 Brian Bolton Graduate/Older Student Essay Contest winners.

The list of awardees has seven top places and four honorable mentions. Students were asked to write 600 to 800 words on the topic of "Why God and politics/government are a dangerous mix." FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994 and graduate students since 2010.

The winners of the competition are listed below and include the award amount, age and college or university they are attending. Students who are a member of a secular student group received $100 bonuses.

Stephanie Wise, 26, Oregon State University ($3,000)

Charlotte Ljustina, 23, Columbia University ($2,000)

Ashley Peralta, 22, University of Colorado ($1,000)

Landon Poe, 22, University of Cambridge Wolfson College ($750)

Garrett Pekarek, 27, Missouri Southern State University ($500)

Regina Riem, 25, Herkimer County Community College ($400)

Arielle Neal, 28, Tennessee State University ($400)


  • Kurt A. Escobar, 29, University of New Mexico
  • Ryan Collins, 23, University of North Texas
  • Phillip Gauronskas, 27, Eastern Virginia Medical School
  • Jason Schloss, 25, Long Island University-Post

The graduate student college contest is named for Brian Bolton, a Lifetime Member who is a retired psychologist, humanist minister and professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas. FFRF also thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing the $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total of $9,050 reflects bonuses.

FFRF congratulates the 11 graduate/older college students who won this year's essay competition and wishes them all the best in their future endeavors.

1VirginiaDepartmentofCorrectionsThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has helped Humanism triumph behind bars—all over the state of Virginia.

A freethinking inmate at Coffeewood Correctional Center in Virginia contacted FFRF because his prison had meeting options for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and a variety of other minority religious groups, but no opportunity for nonreligious inmates to meet and converse about their beliefs. The inmate, Christopher Landeck, applied to start a Humanist study group with equal access to prison chapel resources, but was denied because the Virginia Department of Corrections did not recognize Humanism on its list of "Religions Approved to Operate in DOC Facilities." Landeck was being effectively denied the opportunity to meet with like-0minded prisoners to discuss his beliefs.

FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Corrections in February of this year to argue for equal access to prison chapel resources for nonreligious inmates. After a lengthy back and forth, Humanism recently became an officially recognized religion throughout the Virginia prison system. Subsequently, Landeck's group was approved at Coffeewood Correctional.

Now that there is a Humanist study group operating at the prison, the participants are eager for educational materials to read about atheism and freethought. That is why FFRF Co-President Dan Barker and the organization have agreed to donate 11 books to the prison chapel library so that all inmates have access to nonreligious views. Barker's hope is that this freethought literature will educate inmates on how to be "good without God" and inspire them to lead a purpose-filled life.

"Freethought philosophy is a highly inspirational and transformational way of thinking," Barker says. "We're confident that exposure to such ideas will revolutionize the lives of Coffeewood inmates—and, eventually, those serving time anywhere in Virginia."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nontheistic organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 23,000 members all over the country, including 500-plus in Virginia.



The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking for a Wisconsin police department's overtly religious oath and code of ethics to be changed.

The West Allis Police Department's Code of Ethics has included the following line since at least 2013, a line that is part of the oath that the police officers take:

I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession . . . LAW ENFORCEMENT. (boldface added)

This Code of Ethics is also printed in the department's annual report. The code's language mirrors the State of Wisconsin's Administrative Code, which prescribes a law enforcement code of ethics that "shall be administered as an oath to all trainees during the preparatory course," except that the Wisconsin Administrative Code does not include the words "before God."

Altering a mandatory oath to require West Allis law enforcement officers to dedicate themselves "before God" is unconstitutional, FFRF asserts. There is no legitimate reason to add a religious phrase into a state-mandated secular oath. This insertion must be removed.

"Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from requiring any kind of religious test for an 'office or public trust,' which includes the position of police officer," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes to West Allis Police Chief Patrick Mitchell. "The U.S. Supreme Court has held that to require a religious oath is a violation of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution."

Besides requiring officers to take a religious oath, the inclusion of the modified Code of Ethics in the department's annual report also gives the appearance that all officers believe in one particular god. This is not only divisive and inaccurate—fully 23 percent of American adults are nonreligious—but also unconstitutional. The message assumes a common god. Imagine the consternation had the West Allis Police Department inserted "before Allah" into the Code of Ethics. It is equally inflammatory and inappropriate to add "before God."

Finally, administering the oath as it is currently written violates the Wisconsin Administrative Code, which requires that all trainees be administered the oath "as set forth below," indicating that amendments are not permitted.

"There are police officers who will not believe in the words of the oath and the Code of Ethics they are supposed to uphold," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The use of religious language, in addition to being unconstitutional, forces such cops to be dishonest."

FFRF is asking for written assurances that the unnecessary and unconstitutional religious language will be removed from the West Allis Police Department's Code of Ethics. Doing so will protect all minority religious or nonreligious officers from potential embarrassment or discrimination and will also send a message that the West Allis Police Department equally values all officers and citizens, regardless of their personal religious or nonreligious beliefs.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog organization with more than 23,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including 1,300-plus in Wisconsin.

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Roger Daleiden

ROGER DALEIDEN is the Graphic Designer at the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He grew up in Wausau, Wis.  He has been living in Madison since 1987. He graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stout with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1986 (Fine Art), and the received his Master of Fine Art degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1991. Roger has taught Art and Design courses for UW-Madison and also for Madison College. He has worked as a Graphic Designer for catalog companies, most recently Full Compass Systems, and as well as for newspapers, including The Capital Times. Some of his other interests include bicycling through our beautiful Southern Wisconsin landscapes, paddling down the lower Wisconsin River, sailing on our lakes and skiing at the local ski areas.

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