The Freedom From Religion Foundation is ready to go "toe-to-toe" with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
FFRF will soon be filing a federal lawsuit over Abbott's removal of FFRF's duly approved Bill of Rights display from the Texas State Capitol late last year.
Abbott had previously said that Texas has the "muscle and firepower to go toe-to-toe" with groups such as FFRF, who try to "bully governmental bodies."
Despite allowing a Christian nativity scene in the Capitol, Abbott forced FFRF's solstice display to be taken down only three days after it had been erected on Dec. 18.
The whimsical exhibit, designed by artist Jake Fortin, commemorates the "birth" of the Bill of Rights, depicting the Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty crowded adoringly around a manger scene containing the constitutional document.
FFRF and Staff Attorney Sam Grover, with the help of Texas state Rep. Donna Howard and Austin FFRF member Arturo de Lozanne, obtained a permit last summer for the December display. Also approved was an explanatory Winter Solstice sign promoting state/church separation, which pointed out that the Bill of Rights was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791.
Abbott, who chairs the Texas State Preservation Board that approves Capitol displays, sent a letter Dec. 21 to the co-defendant John Sneed, the board's executive director, advising him to remove the FFRF display. Abbott lambasted FFRF's exhibit as indecent and mocking, implied it would promote public immorality, had no educational purpose and compared it to "Piss Christ," a controversial 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano showing a plastic crucifix submerged in a jar of urine.
State Rep. Charlie Geren, a Preservation Board member, advised Sneed about FFRF's display, saying "that, if I were him, I'd take it down."
FFRF's federal lawsuit, to be filed in February in the Western District of Texas, Austin division, charges that Abbott and the other defendants violated the free speech, equal protection and due process rights of FFRF and its member, de Lozanne.
The defendants' action shows "unambiguous viewpoint discrimination" and was also motivated by "animus" toward FFRF and its nontheistic message, FFRF contends. Such action violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by favoring the "stand-alone Christian nativity scene" and disfavoring FFRF's "nontheisic content."
FFRF's legal complaint details a "history of hostility directed against FFRF" by Abbott when he was attorney general. In December 2011, Abbott, on Fox News, actually warned FFRF to stay out of Texas altogether, stating: "Our message to the atheists is: Don't mess with Texas or our nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments."
"I want the Freedom From Religion Foundation to know that our office has a history of defending religious displays in this state," Abbott added. He warned that FFRF should be aware that Texas "has the muscle and firepower to go toe-to-toe with these organizations that come from out of state trying to bully governmental bodies into tearing down things like nativity scenes."
In October 2012, Abbott again attacked FFRF during a press conference: "We will not allow atheist groups from outside of the state of Texas to come into the state, to use menacing and misleading intimidation tactics to try to bully schools to bow down at the altar of secular beliefs." During the same conference, Abbott said: "We are not going to either tolerate or accept these atheist groups trying to prevent that freedom of expression here in the state of Texas."
As governor, Abbott has recently attacked FFRF for asking the Brewster County's Sheriff's Office to remove crosses from patrol vehicles, and has complained that the city of Orange, Texas, removed a nativity scene from city hall at FFRF's behest.
"Gov. Abbott has consistently advocated for displays of religion in the public sphere, while actively opposing any expression of nonreligious principles," FFRF notes.
FFRF will be seeking a judgment that each defendant violated the Establishment Clause and clauses protecting free speech, equal protection and due process rights of the plaintiffs. FFRF will be asking for damages and reasonable costs and attorneys' fees.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of FFRF by Richard L. Bolton, with FFRF Staff Attorneys Sam Grover and Patrick Elliott as co-counsel.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is unveiling a badge to reward freethinking youths and to challenge the Boy Scouts of America's discrimination against the nonreligious. The badge, based on the Dawkins' "A," is cosponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
BSA has come under fire by FFRF and many nonreligious parents for four decades for recruiting through and meeting in public schools, advertising that "Any boy may join." After boys attend the recruitment and are excited to join, parents are belatedly informed they must sign BSA's Declaration of Religious Sentiments.
BSA formally discriminates against nonreligious boys and their families, officially excluding atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers. Currently, BSA maintains "that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
FFRF maintains that no one can grow into the best kind of citizen who discriminates against the nonreligious, and that it's what you do — not what you believe — that makes you a good person.
Social disapproval prompted BSA to largely drop a similar ban on membership against gay Scouts. But BSA persists in stigmatizing those who use reason and critical thought to evaluate religious claims.
FFRF, at the urging of its member Richard Kirschman, has produced a badge similar to BSA's merit badges, which are typically sewn on uniforms or sashes.
Scouts who wish to earn this badge are asked to help disprove BSA's misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens. The requirements, paralleling typical merit badge requirements, ask Scouts to learn about secularism and the rich history of dissent from religion.
Because this unauthorized "badge" is intended to protest BSA policy, it's expected that Scouts won't be able to work with a typical merit badge counselor to demonstrate completion of requirements. So FFRF will ask a parent, guardian, sibling over the age of 18, teacher or other adult in their lives to attest that Scouts have fulfilled them. At Dawkins' suggestion, the Scout is also required to send FFRF a short essay that addresses BSA's claim that nonbelievers can't be good citizens. Unlike BSA badge providers, FFRF will not charge Scouts money for the badge.
FFRF intends the badge to reward Boy Scouts who have persevered in an organization that basically has instituted a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy about atheist and agnostic participants, but has regularly expelled open nonbelievers. While BSA officials dictate the discriminatory policy, Scouting troops vary widely in their enforcement of the ban, so it's believed many Scouts are nonreligious.
"But if any young boy — or girl — fulfills the requirements, we'd be delighted to reward them with this badge," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Many nonreligious students who might otherwise wish to join BSA never join, knowing of its bigoted policy. This is their chance to be rewarded for critical thinking and to earn a keepsake at the same time. We hope someday very soon that BSA itself will change its policy and adopt its own official merit badge rewarding critical thinking."
FFRF's requirements give Scouts or other young freethinkers the chance to select various activities, such as interviewing a military veteran about being "an atheist in a foxhole" or nonreligious acquaintances about their nonbelief.
Scouts are asked to engage in secular or freethought activism, such as attending a secular convention, starting or participating in a secular student club, writing a letter to the editor on a secular topic, "sitting down" for the religious Pledge of Allegiance, or speaking up if they hear atheism being derided or erroneous claims such as that "America is a Christian nation." Students are invited to watch a movie with a freethought theme, such as Monty Python's "Life of Brian," or to learn to perform John Lennon's "Imagine." They are asked to research the lives of historic freethinkers and the history of how religion has seeped into U.S. symbols.
The full requirements for the contests can be found at FFRF's website: ffrf.org/freethought-badge.
Please help publicize this opportunity to young freethinkers in your life and community.
FFRF thanks Richard Kirschman for subsidizing the cost of the badges.
The typical member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is a recently retired male who has at least one degree, who votes (usually as an independent), thought his own way out of a religious background and overwhelmingly supports reproductive and women's rights.
FFRF sent out a membership survey in late May 2015 to its 21,000 members (FFRF has since added an additional 2,500 members). More than a third (nearly 8,000) of you responded — which is statistically impressive. Offered the choice to fill out the survey online or on paper, most chose to fill out and return the paper questionnaire. Our hardworking administrative staff, which entered thousands of those surveys, just finished that project at year's end. Now we are sharing those statistically relevant results with you.
FFRF has always billed itself as a freethought umbrella, with no label required as a litmus test. However, when asked which term best describes your freethought views, almost 84% of FFRF members picked "atheist." "Agnostic" came in at 8% and another 8% prefer another term, such as reasonist, nonbeliever or humanist.
A vast majority of FFRF members grew up in a religious home (55%) or where at least one parent was religious (31% "mixed"). A mere 14% came from a freethought home. That nearly a third of you come from homes where one parent was nonreligious shows the value of cognitive dissonance. Not surprisingly, given the above results, 77% of you term yourself a first-generation freethinker, 17% second generation. Only 5% are third generation or more.
A plurality (48%) of members were raised in some form of Protestantism. More surprising, 29% were brought up Roman Catholic. Although about a quarter of the U.S. population traditionally has been Catholic, there's been such a sharp drop-off that today Catholics make up only one-fifth of the U.S. population. By the way, that puts "Nones" (those 24% who indicate they are nonreligious) above Catholics! Pew Research surveys also show more than one in six Catholics today leaves the church, with nearly 13% of all Americans describing themselves as "former Catholics."
Almost 9% of you come from a Jewish background, also disproportionate to the 1.8% in the general population. About 13% of you chose "Other." (This category was skewed by the fact that many of these answers simply noted specific Protestant denominations, such as Baptist).
FFRF members are an educated bunch, with 96% having at least some college (14% some college, but no degree; 7% associate degree), 33% with a bachelor's degree, and nearly 40% with at least one advanced degree (24% one master's, 4% multiple master's, 4% law degree, 10% Ph.D. and nearly 4% medical degree).
Asked to choose between six primary catalysts for leaving religion, 33% of you chose "Religion doesn't make sense," 16% science, 14% religious hypocrisy/bigotry, 6% reading skeptical authors and 4% reading the bible itself. Nearly 16% added additional comments, such as, "All of the above." (See sidebar for a sampling of these comments.)
The average age of a member of FFRF is 62.7. The vast majority (over 90%) are at least 40 or older. Almost 12% are between the ages of 40–49, 19% 50–59, 28% 60–69, 23% 70–79. Only 12% of you have children under the age of 18 living in your household. The survey showed 57% of FFRF members are retired. The older age bracket has been consistent with FFRF surveys for almost 40 years. After nonbelievers get through college, establish careers and families, they then tend to join FFRF.
"We concentrate on providing services to younger freethinkers, particularly students, who don't yet have the disposable income to join FFRF," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. FFRF runs three essay competitions, offers student and youth activist awards, and works closely with students and their parents to correct state/church violations in public schools.
Although 73% of you are male, you're actively feminist: An overwhelming 73% strongly support women's rights. We asked you, "In addition to FFRF and other secular causes, which other types of causes do you support (check all that apply)?" This question was aimed at discovering which other causes members actively support, such as via membership, donations or volunteer activities. Receiving the most "votes" was reproductive rights, checked by 79% of FFRF members, closely followed by death with dignity and environmental issues (75% each), the aforementioned women's rights, marriage equality (72%), racial equality (64%), LGBTQ rights 63% and 64%??, peace/antiwar 50%.
"It's fascinating to me that the most popular cause is reproductive rights, since that was the impetus for founding FFRF in the first place. It was fighting religious dogma in our civil law over the question of contraception and abortion that happened to open my mother's and my eyes to the harm of religious sway over legislation. Apparently that epiphany is a common one," commented Gaylor.
A full 96% identify as white or Caucasian. "We've started funding an annual needs-based scholarship for freethinking students of color, and we include a prompt aimed at students of color in one of our essay competitions, but we will take this result as a cue to work harder at expanding outreach," noted Barker.
Sixty percent of you are married, 12.5% divorced, 8% cohabiting, 6% widowed, and almost 12% single, never married. About 10% identify as LGBTQ. Almost 11% of FFRF members are vegetarian or vegan (compared to about 3% of the general population).
Proving there are atheists and agnostics in foxholes, 26% of FFRF members have served in the military (typically 24% in the military are nonbelievers). About 19% of FFRF members are employed in or retired from the teaching profession, and 57% are retired overall. Nearly 33% of FFRF members volunteer on a regular basis.
Thirteen percent of you have attended an FFRF convention in the past decade. We asked which area would most attract you the most: The West Coast (22%) and the Midwest (21.6%) received the most votes.
Thank you to the whopping 73% who have recommended FFRF to a friend or colleague! We were pleased that 71% found it easy to join, donate or purchase books or merchandise online.
Over 43% of you have been members for 2–5 years and 20% for 6–10 years. Almost 23% who responded had been a member for a year or less.
More than 4,900 of you chose to tell us in your own words why you joined FFRF, and we really enjoyed reading those comments, with answers such as: "You do important work," "Strength in numbers," "I strongly believe in the separation of church and state and want to support an organization that fights for the cause." More than 1,700 made suggestions for projects for FFRF to undertake, from very general to very specific. FFRF and its legal department are studying these responses closely, and appreciate the suggestions.
"I'm proud to report that 96% of our members are registered voters," said Gaylor. "All the more reason for public candidates to wake up to the changing demographics and court the secular vote." FFRF members are mostly an independent crowd, with 21% calling themselves Independent, 36% "Progressive/Liberal," 28.7% Democratic, 3.5% Libertarian, 2.5% Green, 3.7% "other" and 1% Republican. Comments included the candid: "I vote for the least repulsive moron."
Name: Ryan David Jayne.
Where and when I was born: Waukesha, Wis., on Oct. 23, 1984.
Education: I attended public school in Waukesha through high school, studied philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee during my undergrad years, then attended law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Ore.
Family: I'm married to my best friend Colleen, who is a high school science teacher. We are expecting our first child, a daughter, in May. My older brother Ben is an occupational therapist in Los Angeles, and my younger brother Collin is an attorney in Las Vegas. My parents, Brian and Darci, are happily retired and live in rural eastern Wisconsin. They spend most of their time gardening, watching birds and making music.
How I came to work at FFRF: My student group at Lewis & Clark invited Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel to our law school to give a presentation in 2014. After that initial connection, I did a one-semester externship in the spring of 2015, and was offered a legal fellowship when the externship ended.
What I do here: I write letters of complaint, participate in litigation, and do any other lawyerly tasks that come up. I specialize in faith-based funding issues, and in 2015 I coordinated FFRF's Winter Solstice displays. When I can find time, I bang a bit on the Diane Uhl Concert Grand Steinway piano on the fourth floor.
What I like best about it: I get particularly excited about stopping endorsements of religion in public schools because I think that can have tremendous long-term effects. It's crucial that our youth rise above the myths and superstitions of their parents' generation, and the first step in that endeavor is dispelling the illusion in students' minds that religiosity is ubiquitous in our society.
What gets old about it: Sometimes we have to comb through hundreds of pages of public records to determine if the government is breaking the law, which can get pretty tiring.
I spend a lot of time thinking about: Legal strategies to combat recalcitrant government actors.
I spend little if any time thinking about: Celebrity gossip.
My religious upbringing was: Non-existent. My parents are freethinkers who just never brought up religion because there were plenty of real things to talk about.
My doubts about religion started: As soon as I started to hear details about religion from my classmates, probably around first grade. I assumed no one really believed any of it.
Things I like: Chess, music, cats and food.
Things I smite: Lazy thinking and sloppy writing.
In my golden years: I hope to play in chess tournaments all over the world.
By PJ Slinger
Think of any fiction book you've read, any fictional movie you've seen, any tall tale you've heard. Now think about the worst character from any of those.
No matter who or what you think of, Dan Barker knows of one who is worse. God. Specifically, the God of the bible.
Barker, co-president of FFRF, has taken a sentence from Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion and, at Dawkins' request, expounded on it in his new book, GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction.
The first sentence of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion says that the God of the Old Testament is "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction." Dawkins says this sentence has been the most heavily criticized line he has ever written. But Barker goes a step further and even removes the "arguably."
Believers point to the bible as a place to find love, compassion and understanding from God. But, as Barker shows, much of the bible shows a completely different character.
"If you have never read the bible, you might like to know what is in it," he writes in the introduction. "If you are a believer, you should be happy to see us promoting bible reading. As a former clergyman, let me offer some counsel: Don't take the word of your pastor, rabbi, or priest. My hope is that you will do what Richard Dawkins has done and simply read the bible for yourself."
As Dawkins writes in the book's foreword, "Even a cursory look at the bible should be enough to convince a reasonable person that it's the very last document you should thrust in front of someone if you want to convince them of the love of God."
In one of the reviews for the book, author, noted cognitive scientist, and FFRF Honorary President Steven Pinker writes, "With a twinkle that belies the canard that atheists are 'strident' and 'militant,' Dan Barker cheerfully refutes the common claim that morality comes from the God of the bible."
In The God Delusion, Dawkins lists 19 of God's character traits, which, "if they were all combined in a single fictional villain, would strain the reader's credulity to the point of ridicule.
"Certifiable psychopaths apart, no real human individual is quite so irredeemably nasty as to combine all of the following: 'jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.' "
In Part I of the book, "Dawkins Was Right," Barker takes each of those 19 traits and finds verses in the bible to show just how much of a miscreant the Christian God is. But that isn't all.
In Part II, "Dawkins Was Too Kind," Barker tells of other evil traits of God. "Richard's 19 denunciations are certainly more than enough to demonstrate the downright depravity of the Lord Jealous, but he overlooked a few more," Barker writes in the introduction. "He forgot to mention that the God of the Old Testament is also a pyromaniacal, angry, merciless, curse-hurling, vaccicidal, aborticidal, cannibalistic slavemonger."
And for those who might try to make the case that God is real, and not a fictional character, then God would easily become No. 1 villain on the list of all nonfiction figures, beating out such monstrous people as Adolph Hitler, Attila the Hun, Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden, Vlad the Impaler and Joseph Stalin. You're better off sticking with fiction.
You may purchase signed copies of "God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction" directly from FFRF for $23 postpaid. Note: Dan is contributing his royalties for every book sold by FFRF, so your order raises funds for a good cause — FFRF! If you want your autograph personalized, please provide the name(s). You may order online at ffrf.org/shop or send your order via check to FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison, WI 53701.