The Freedom From Religion Foundation insists that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stay ashore and not be part of an upcoming Christian cruise to Alaska.
Concerned Wisconsinites have contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (headquartered in the state) to convey their unease that Lifeshape, a Christian organization, has offered Walker and his wife a free religious Alaskan cruise.
"The governor and first lady Tonette Walker are planning to host an 'inspirational' cruise to Alaska on Aug. 12-19 along with a small group of evangelical Christian leaders and musicians," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Walker recently announced his participation, encouraging others to pay to join him for the cruise, which will include "nightly inspirational messages" such as "faith in the public arena" and "faith-driven entrepreneurship."
FFRF is troubled that the cruise is ramming through the First Amendment, and Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor have written a letter to the governor expressing their concerns. Walker is leveraging his public office in order to promote his personal religion.
In his promotional message, Walker repeats a tired assumption that all Americans "hold dear" religious faith, and Christianity in particular. In fact, nearly 30 percent of Americans are non-Christian. This includes 23 percent of American adults — and 35 percent of Millennials — who are nonreligious. The language that Walker employs in his promo, such as "nightly inspirational messages," "faith in the public arena" and "faith-driven entrepreneurship," sidelines and deprecates the huge portion of Wisconsinites who do not share his Christian zeal.
Walker was offered this gift only because he is the governor of Wisconsin; the gubernatorial office is, however, secular in nature. Walker took an oath, in fact, to uphold the secular and godless U.S. Constitution, as well as the Wisconsin Constitution, which prohibits state officials from giving "any preference" to "any religious establishments or modes of worship."
FFRF also wonders whether accepting this gift and crafting an advertisement for a for-profit religious cruise, signed as "Governor, State of Wisconsin," violate the State of Wisconsin Code of Ethics, which prohibits conflicts of interest and sharply limits gifts that state officers may receive, including "any lodging, transportation, money or other thing . . ." As the state's highest officer, Walker should strive to uphold not only the letter, but also the spirit of the state's ethical guidelines. FFRF is gravely disappointed that Walker and his wife are obtaining a free cruise. If he and his family wish to go on a scenic religious cruise, at the very least they should pay their own way.
FFRF strongly urges Walker to change his mind and reject Lifeshape's offer for him to join in on an overtly Christian expedition.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization based in Wisconsin itself with more than 27,000 members across the country, including more than 1,400 members in Wisconsin. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to represent the views of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers).
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A Florida judge says a prayer lawsuit against a high school athletic league should be tossed out. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Amanda Arnold Sansone issued a Feb. 3 recommendation to dismiss a case brought by Cambridge Christian School against the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). The First Liberty Institute, a Christian advocacy group, filed the suit in September, arguing that the association was mandated to allow Cambridge Christian to deliver a Christian prayer over the public address system at state championship events in which the school participates. Sansone found that Cambridge Christian's request for a preliminary injunction should be denied and its suit should be dismissed.
FFRF and its chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the school did not have a First Amendment right to commandeer the public address system. "Cambridge Christian wants to force a state agency to promote its Christian message through a mechanism limited to conveying government speech," FFRF stated in its brief.
The judge's recommendation likewise found that the prayer would be viewed as coming from the government. Sansone wrote that she reached "the inescapable conclusion that the nature of the entirety of the speech, including the proposed prayer, throughout the championship game over the loudspeaker is government speech."
Cambridge Christian's free exercise claim was also recommended for dismissal. The report noted that the suit did not include "a single allegation that Cambridge Christian or any of its members were deprived of their right to pray at the championship game. On the contrary, both Cambridge Christian's team and the opposing team were permitted to pray together at the most centrally focused and public area of the stadium — the 50-yard line." Sansone wrote that she "remains at a loss as to how the FHSAA's refusal to permit Cambridge Christian to utilize the FHSAA-controlled loudspeaker to broadcast the teams' pre-game prayer violated Cambridge Christian's or its members' rights under the Free Exercise Clause."
"The Central Florida Freethought Community applauds the magistrate judge's decision to dismiss, since Cambridge Christian was not denied the right to pray at all," says the organization's board member Keith Becher. "The FHSAA, as a state actor, has an appropriate policy in place and should be commended for following it. This is simply a case of a Christian school not being allowed to use the machinery of the government to further its mission of evangelism."
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor adds, "This case represents an extraordinary sense of entitlement by a Christian school that wants to impose its religion on anyone who is present at a state-sponsored game."
The magistrate judge's report and recommendation was submitted to District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell, who may adopt the recommendation or author her own decision.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation wholeheartedly supports a new bill to end immigration discrimination against people of any religious belief — including those with no religious belief.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., a former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, recently introduced in Congress the Freedom of Religion Act of 2017. The bill, which already has more than 100 co-sponsors, has clear language providing nontheists protection from the type of religion-based policies that the Trump administration has put into place. "Notwithstanding any other provision of the immigration laws, an alien may not be denied entry, re-entry, or admission to the United States, or any other immigration benefit, because of the alien's religion or lack of religious beliefs," a provision reads.
FFRF enthusiastically applauds a bill that not only upholds the Establishment Clause but contains such a clear reference to nonbelievers' rights. It is urging its more than 26,000 members nationwide to actively support the Freedom of Religion Act. (The bill has also drawn support from leading human rights and civil liberties organizations such as Amnesty International and the ACLU.)
"In these troubled times, we're overjoyed that our nation's legislators are keeping in their consciousness the rights of freethinkers worldwide," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Good luck to Rep. Beyer's efforts."
The plight of nonbelievers in other countries is of deep concern to FFRF since the organization has been deeply involved through its charitable arm Nonbelief Relief Inc. to assist and relocate imperiled atheist Bangladeshi activists and bloggers.
Beyer wrote a moving column for Politico explaining his motivation for reintroducing the Freedom of Religion Act (a previous version died last session). The piece tells of the multiple miseries he witnessed during a recent visit to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., as a result of the new immigration rules.
"The afternoon and early evening were spent with human story after story, some tragic, others sad, all frightened," he wrote. "Last year, worried about the possibility of a situation just like this, I introduced a bill called the Freedom of Religion Act. The bill would make it illegal to deny admission to the U.S. on the basis of religion. I will be reintroducing this legislation this week, and hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support it."
FFRF also praises Rep. Mark Pocan, the member of Congress representing its hometown of Madison, Wis., for being among the co-sponsors of a bill profoundly inspired by our nation's foundational document.
"Religious freedom is a defining value of the United States, guaranteed by the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment of the Constitution," Beyer said in the press release introducing the Freedom of Religion Act of 2017. "Today's legislation won't erase the pain from President Trump's ban, but it will ensure that this sort of immoral action never happens again and show the world that America still honors its founding principles."
It couldn't be stated better.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with more than 26,000 nonreligious members nationally and chapters all over the country.
Image from FCNP.