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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

September 15-17, 2017

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

FFRF is pleased to announce that it has awarded $10,000 in scholarship awards in money of Catherine Fahringer to four students chosen by the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, an African-American atheist community-based group.

This year's winners are Kola Heyward-Rotimi (Amherst College), Makeda Scott (University of Iowa), Jorge Banuelos (Carleton College) and Sabria Harper (UC Berkeley).

Fahringer was a San Antonio feminist and freethinking activist who ran a long-lived FFRF chapter and served on the executive board for many years. She was especially interested in nurturing the next generation of freethinkers. She died in 2008.

"We are excited to offer these four students $2,500 each in the name of Catherine Fahringer," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "She would have been proud of them, since all four are keeping her legacy alive."

The scholarship winners have perceptive insights to offer on young freethinkers of color.

"I not only identify as a secular person but as an African-American, which brings into play two different cultural aspects that contrast with mainstream society's view of who is secular," writes Heyward-Rotimi. "Secular people are rarely seen in media as people of color, let alone a young black man raised by an African-American mother and a Nigerian-American father in a nonreligious household."

Scott describes the joy she derives from being a nonconformist of many stripes.

"I take pride in saying I'm a nonbeliever," she states. "I take pride in saying I'm black. I take pride in saying I'm a lesbian. I take pride in saying I'm a woman. I don't conform to societal norms, and that's OK."

Banuelos reveals the liberating effect of casting off a heritage of strong belief.

"I grew up in a family of Jehovah's Witnesses, going three generations back to my great-grandmother," he writes. "It didn't sit easy with me that I had to automatically accept an Earthly hierarchy connected to a mystic, ethereal creator. I didn't like the communal peer pressure to follow a preset life pattern, nor did I appreciate the full devotion to some texts, but lenience toward other beliefs. As I grew, I told myself that I owed it to my well-being and my conscience to not maintain this façade for the emotional comfort of those halfway vested in me. So I didn't."

And Harper pinpoints the essence of freethinking.

"Humanism is the key to fixing us and making our society the best it can possibly be," she states.

FFRF congratulates the four winners and wishes them the best in their endeavors.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church and the promotion of freethought, with almost 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country. It hosts or underwrites a number of student essay and activist awards.

1madisontechlogoThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is raising objections to a sermonizing Wisconsin community college professor.

Madison College Professor Hiep S. Van Dong, an instructor in the School of Business and Applied Arts, has encouraged students in his Leadership, Ethics and Development course to add religion to their lives, both verbally in class and via email. Dong explained to a student in an email that he has "discovered it isn't about do's and don'ts, it is about a personal relationship with a living God. It is not about earning my way to heaven or God's grace; however, it is about seeking a personable Creator and sustainer of my life." Dong also uses "Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn," a religion-promoting tome by John C. Maxwell, an evangelical pastor, as a textbook. Dong has reportedly solicited the entire class to contact him personally about the "truth" in the book, stating that he "could not say it in class, given it is a public university."

Dong's promotion of religion constitutes an official endorsement and advancement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

"Federal courts have upheld public universities' restrictions on a professor's religious expression in the classroom and other like settings," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes to Madison College School of Business and Applied Arts Dean Bryan Woodhouse. "These restrictions do not abridge the professor's free speech rights."

Madison College's interest in avoiding the appearance of official endorsement of Dong's religious beliefs overrides his free speech rights in this matter, FFRF contends.

"Such blatant religiosity has no place in a public institution," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Madison College needs to put a check on Dong's religious activities in class."

FFRF is asking Madison College to take immediate action to ensure that Dong is not misusing his position and authority as a public college instructor to sermonize to a captive audience of students.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with almost 24,000 nonreligious members nationally, including more than 1,300 in Wisconsin.

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Robert Redford

Playboy: Do you believe in an afterlife?

Redford: I'm not sure I do. I've explored every religion, some very deeply, enough to know there's not one philosophy that can satisfy me. Problems can't be solved with one way of thinking. If anything is my guide, nature is. That's where my spirituality is. I don't believe in organized religion, because I don't believe people should be organized in how they think, in what they believe. That has never been driven home as hard as with the [Bush] administration. When somebody thinks God speaks to him, you've got trouble. If God is speaking to the president, he's speaking with a forked tongue, because the behavior of this administration doesn't seem very godlike or spiritual.. . . Is there an afterlife? As far as I know, this is it. It's all we’ve got. You take your opportunities and you go for it.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided today that an FFRF member who is a parent of a high school student has legal standing to challenge a Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania school.

The court ruled in favor of Marie Schaub, finding that a district court dismissal of the case against the New Kensington-Arnold School District last year was improper. The three-judge panel unanimously found that Schaub's removal of her daughter from Valley High School due to the Ten Commandments monument, and prior contact with it, were sufficient for her to bring the case.

"The District Court appeared to read the direct, unwelcome contact standard to include a frequency requirement," Judge Patty Shwartz, writing for the panel, said of the legal test applied by the district court. "This is incorrect."

The court noted the ability of plaintiffs to bring Establishment Clause cases, even when they have not changed their behavior.

"A community member should not be forced to forgo a government service to preserve his or her ability to challenge an allegedly unconstitutional religious display or activity," Schwartz said. "Thus, a community member like Schaub may establish standing by showing direct, unwelcome contact with the allegedly offending object or event, regardless of whether such contact is infrequent or she does not alter her behavior to avoid it."

The court also highlighted the unique parental rights involved, writing that Schaub "has an interest in guiding her child's religious upbringing and has standing to challenge actions that seek to 'establish a religious preference affecting' her child."

FFRF and a parent previously won a similar case against the nearby Connellsville Area School District. 

"If anybody has suffered injury by the presence of a Ten Commandments monolith at this community high school, it is Marie Schaub and her daughter, whose lives and education have been disrupted just for speaking up for the First Amendment," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're delighted that reason — and the Constitution — have prevailed, and look forward to winning this case at the district level as we won the Connellsville case."

The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings on Schaub's claims and remanded for consideration of whether FFRF has standing on the basis that Schaub was a member when the suit was filed.

FFRF will be honoring Schaub at its upcoming 39th annual national convention at the Wyndham Grand Downtown in Pittsburgh on the weekend of Oct. 7-9. Schaub, the target of community wrath, will be receiving FFRF's "Atheist in Foxhole Courage Award." She will share the podium with such noted speakers as physicist and science educator Lawrence Krauss, Tuft University philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, author Susan Jacoby and Pennsylvania's own author Lauri Lebo, author of The Devil in Dover about the Intelligent Design trial.

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

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