A California city council nixed a multimillion-dollar grant to a private religious school after the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected.
The Santa Ana City Council was considering a $2.5 million grant to Mater Dei High School, a Catholic institution, for construction of a new building and parking garage. FFRF called attention to the fact that the funding would have been a violation of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the California Constitution.
"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from supporting religious activities with public funds," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and City Council members. "The city of Santa Ana violates this principle when it funds the expansion of a private parochial school."
Jayne additionally detailed how the California Constitution prohibits such funding and urged the Santa Ana City Council not to disburse any money to the Mater Dei High School.
After receiving FFRF's missive, the Santa Ana City Council had second thoughts.
"Please be aware that the City Council agenda item referenced in the letter from Mr. Ryan Jayne has been removed," Daniel Soto from the city manager's office responded in an email. "City staff has not suggested that the item be placed back on any future City Council meeting agenda for consideration."
A city council member thanked FFRF for reporting the problem and expressed support for its position.
FFRF is elated at the city's about-face.
"We were dismayed that Santa Ana was possibly going to channel millions of taxpayer dollars to a sectarian religious entity," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're glad that it saw the light."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with nearly 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including more than 3,000 in California.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sending an important election-year message to the good people of Mississippi. A highway billboard in Tupelo stresses to Mississippians: "God Fixation Won't Fix This Nation."
The message is going up on July 1 on a digital billboard at the intersection of Main and Gloster in the city and will remain there for a month. FFRF is a state/church watchdog group with 24,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 100 in Mississippi.
FFRF's billboard message is very appropriate for Mississippi. The state is the most religious in the country (tied with Alabama), with 77 percent of adult Mississippians saying that they are "very religious," according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, it consistently ranks at or near the bottom in quality of life. A recent survey found it to be the worst state in the country to live in, with "the lowest annual median household income and the highest poverty rate in the nation," as well as the lowest life expectancy.
"We lose sight of human needs when we fixate on gods," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "When we have faith in ourselves, we won't need faith in gods."
This is FFRF's first billboard in Mississippi, underwritten by a lifetime member of the organization who resides in Tupelo, but prefers not to be identified. Even though Mississippi has a pattern of violations of the constitutional separation of state and church, FFRF membership has been low, and the organization hopes with its Mississippi billboard to also draw the attention of freethinkers living in the state.
"We welcome with open arms any nontheists living in Mississippi," adds Gaylor. "Groups like ours provide comfort and solace to folks whose nonbelief can make them feel like outsiders in their own communities."