An Indiana county has taken a wisely secular action in response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
After opening its courthouse lawn to an FFRF display and a variety of religious panoramas last winter, Franklin County has passed a new ordinance prohibiting all private exhibits on its courthouse lawn from this point onward. Commissioners cited "interference with the courthouse operations" and the "unexpected undue burden" on county resources as the reasons for closing the forum.
FFRF suspects that the actual motive of the Franklin County commissioners may have been a bit more complicated.
"I assume that the real reason they're closing the forum is because the lawn became such a circus once it became widely known that anyone could place a display there," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Last winter, they tolerated about a dozen Christian exhibits. FFRF's Winter Solstice banner, which was slashed to ribbons and replaced, was actually one of the most season-appropriate displays on the lawn."
Prior to the 2015 holiday season, Franklin County had allowed a standalone Christian nativity scene at the courthouse each Christmas for many years. When pressed to remove it by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for violating state/church separation, the county initially did nothing. But after a lawsuit brought by FFRF and the ACLU of Indiana in 2014, the county claimed that it had a forum to allow any private religious displays. FFRF asked to include its own exhibit celebrating the Winter Solstice, but was initially denied, sparking a second lawsuit. Ultimately, the county settled with FFRF and permitted its Winter Solstice banner alongside a number of other displays.
The new Franklin County ordinance is a belated but welcome change, since it is what FFRF had wanted all along.
"We're pleased to learn that after six years of letter writing and two lawsuits, Franklin County has finally done what we first requested in 2010," notes FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "Limiting use of the courthouse lawn to government displays should ensure that the lawn remains an open and welcoming space for all community members to enjoy—regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 23,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including 300-plus in Indiana.
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)
SIXTH PLACE (TIE)
Regina Riem, 25, Herkimer County Community College ($400)
SIXTH PLACE (TIE)
Arielle Neal, 28, Tennessee State University ($400)
HONORABLE MENTIONS ($200 EACH)
- 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.
The 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.