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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

A group of ex-Muslims is finally getting to eat cake—and that, too, for free—due to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

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A Wegmans outlet in Fairfax, Va., refused to decorate and sell a cake to the Ex-Muslims of North America. On May 31, the organization's staff emailed the Wegmans bakery in Fairfax and requested a cake to celebrate the group's third anniversary. The caption was to read, "Congratulations on 3 years!!" and the cake was to feature the group's name and logo:

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But when the group's staffers called to confirm the design and status of the cake, they report that a "rude bakery associate" denied the request, calling it "offensive."

This denial raised serious concerns under federal, state, and local civil rights laws, as FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out in a recent letter to Daniel Wegman and Colleen Wegman, CEO and president, respectively, of the chain. 

Wegmans very quickly apologized after learning of the refusal of service. There was intervention from the highest level of the corporate hierarchy on the same day that the issue received public play.

"Danny Wegman was very concerned about the incident described in your letter today, and asked me to look into it, which I have done with the Virginia division manager and the Fairfax store manager," Stephen Van Arsdale, senior vice president and general counsel of Wegmans, emailed to Seidel. "We have concluded that the bakery department made the wrong decision and that they should have made the cake as ordered. Our employees typically do an incredible job of serving our customers, but occasionally they make mistakes. This was one of those times, unfortunately, and we apologize."

Wegmans has offered to make up for the snub by charging nothing for the cake. FFRF is delighted.

"The corporate office acted quickly and correctly to compensate for the misbehavior from employees at one store," says Seidel. "I wish some of the government officials we contacted were as conscientious about doing their jobs."

Ex-Muslims of North America is pleased, too.

"We are grateful that Wegmans management took this issue seriously, and agreed with us that the actions of their Fairfax bakery employees were categorically wrong," says organization President Muhammad Syed. "We hope that the management will take action to educate their employees on discrimination and the appropriateness of bringing a personal belief into the workplace."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of nontheism and the separation of state and church, with 24,000 members, including more than 500 in Virginia.

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A large religious message in an Oklahoma public school was taken down after a Freedom From Religion Foundation complaint.

One of the walls in the teachers' lounge in East Side Elementary School in Chandler, Okla., had a 5-foot-by-5-foot stenciled message that read: "Miracles alter flow unseen through our lives, so let us remember to thank God for our daily blessings."

FFRF reminded school officials that this was a violation of the First Amendment.

"As you know, public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Wayland Kimble, superintendent of Chandler Public School District. "Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools. That this religious message is displayed in the teachers' lounge does not mitigate the violation." 

FFRF asked that the message be removed.

The School District reacted swiftly and affirmatively.

"Thank you of informing me of this," Kimble replied in an email within a day of receiving Seidel's letter. "We have taken it [the message] down."

FFRF truly appreciates the speedy response.

"The Chandler Public School District has been quick to take remedial action in the past, and this is yet another instance," says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "It's gratifying to find such a school district."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 24,000 nonreligious members, including more than 150 in Oklahoma.

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FFRF demands a cake for ex-Muslims

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a grocery chain to bake a freethinking group a cake.

A Wegmans outlet in Fairfax, Va., refused to decorate and sell a cake to the Ex-Muslims of North America. On May 31, the organization's staff emailed the Wegmans bakery in Fairfax and requested a cake to celebrate the group's third anniversary. The caption was to read, "Congratulations on 3 years!!" and the cake was to feature the group's name and logo:

1ExMuslims

But when the group's staffers called to confirm the design and status of the cake, they report that a "rude bakery associate" denied the request, calling it "offensive."

The organization's initial attempts at getting an explanation from Wegmans were unsuccessful. Finally, an employee called the group back and explained that the cake was declined because the store did not want to advocate "one way or the other." The worker said that the store has "a lot of employees who are Muslim," and that "employees may not know what this stands for."

Unlike the blatant discrimination some Christian bakeries have shown to gay and lesbian Americans in the name of religious freedom, this appears to be discrimination against customers' lack of religious belief, since Wegmans essentially refused to serve a group of nonbelievers. It raises serious concerns under federal, state, and local civil rights laws.

"First, the Civil Rights Act states, 'All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation,'" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes in a letter to Daniel and Colleen Wegman, CEO and president, respectively, of the chain. "Second, refusing to provide a service to a group because of their former religious beliefs or current lack of religious beliefs violates state civil rights laws. And, finally, the Human Rights Ordinance of Fairfax County makes it 'unlawful for any person or public accommodation to discriminate against any person.'"

Even setting aside the legalities, the chain's discrimination is plain wrong. The cake was not for Wegmans, it was for the Ex-Muslims of North America. It wasn't denigrating a religion, and there is no need for Wegmans to construe the cake's message for employees about its meaning. Plus, Wegmans' behavior suggests that leaving a religion is offensive, reinforcing the stigma the 23 percent of Americans who identify as nonreligious face in this country.

"Apostates from Islam are regularly ostracized by their communities and families—simply for no longer sharing a belief," says Muhammad Syed, the president of Ex-Muslims of North America. "Our mere existence is considered offensive to some, and we face threats and abuse on a regular basis. It is a shame that an American business is choosing to mirror this sentiment."

To remedy the situation, FFRF is asking Wegmans to fulfill the original order without charge and educate its employees on their duty to serve patrons without discrimination.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of nontheism and the separation of state and church, with 24,000 members, including more than 500 in Virginia.

Nonbelief Relief is making major donations to help with the Orlando tragedy and to assist Bangladeshi nonbelievers.

Its latest round of grants include $10,000 earmarked for Orlando and $35,000 in aid of Bangladeshi freethinkers.

Nonbelief Relief is a new humanitarian agency created by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to enable charitable donations by nonbelievers. It seeks to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice and also aims to provide assistance for individuals targeted for nonbelief, secular activism or blasphemy. 

"We nonbelievers are just as charitable as religionists, but have simply lacked the infrastructure to pool money to charity," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, Nonbelief Relief administrator and Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president. "These donations are done in the name of atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers."

Nonbelief Relief's Orlando donation is to the Human Compassion Fund. The Fund, via the National Center for Victims of Crime, funnels all money directly to the family victims of mass casualty crimes. The goal is to raise $7 million for the victims and the families of the Orlando nightclub massacre. All donations earmarked for the Orlando fund go directly to affected individuals and families.

In Bangladesh, travel and relocation stipends were wired recently to seven endangered bloggers who are on hit list as secular activists. "The Islamic extremists are ready to kill us all," writes one of the recipients.

The Bangladesh aid was prompted by the fact that at least 13 nonbelievers have been executed by Islamist terrorists in Bangladesh, including six freethinkers murdered through April of this year. (Rafida Bonya Ahmed, widow of Avijit Roy, who was killed in an attack last year that Ahmed barely survived, will be speaking at the FFRF convention in Pittsburgh in October.

"Dhaka now feels more dangerous than a war zone to me," one of the Bangladeshi nonbelievers has written to Nonbelief Relief.

In other aid, Nonbelief Relief is giving:

• $10,000 to the World Food Program USA, under the United Nations, to aid famine victims in South Sudan, a hunger hotspot. Conflict in South Sudan has displaced more than 1.8 million people in the last two years. Nearly 2.6 million people are experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity. Last year, Nonbelief Relief gave $20,000 to the World Food Program for food relief in Syria.

• $10,000 to directly sponsor one volunteer for the coming year for the Humanist Service Corps, administered by Foundation Beyond Belief. In 2015, that foundation launched the first international volunteer service program guided by humanist values. Volunteers support Songtaba, a women's rights organization working to end gender-based violence and discrimination in the northern region of Ghana. The grant is a basic living stipend for the full-time volunteer.

To donate to campaigns like these, please earmark your donation to FFRF for "Nonbelief Relief." FFRF's online donation form has a designation for Nonbelief Relief, ensuring your donation is deductible for income-tax purposes. 

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"Donations to replenish Nonbelief Relief would be very much appreciated so we can continue to serve people in the name of freethought in a world full of great need," adds Gaylor.

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

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

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