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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Meet a legal staffer

Name: Elizabeth Cavell.

Where and when I was born: New York, N.Y., in July 1983.

Education: B.A., University of Florida; J.D., Tulane University Law School.

Family: Spouse, Andrew Seidel; son, Oliver; and Moose, our dog.

How I came to work at FFRF: I worked as a public defender in Colorado after law school. After a couple of years there, my husband Andrew had an opportunity to work for FFRF so we moved to Madison. I took the Wisconsin bar exam and was working part-time providing legal support at FFRF when the former intake attorney left to take a job at a local firm. I was hired to replace her.

What I do here: I am the intake attorney, which means I supervise the processing of complaints by our administrative assistant. I also process incoming complaints myself. I speak with complainants who contact FFRF about potential state/church violations, assess each complaint and assign complaints to attorneys for further action when appropriate.

I also handle my own substantive caseload, which includes complaints involving governmental "In God We Trust" displays, public parks, post
offices and civil rights/public accommodations complaints.

What I like best about it: Working with my friends, practicing constitutional law and screwing with the government.

What gets old about it: The daunting volume of complaints, working with limited resources and people threatening to kill us.

I spend a lot of time thinking about: Places I'd like to travel, how to better myself, home improvement projects.

I spend little if any time thinking about: Sports and fantasy sports.

My religious upbringing was: Catholic. I attended Catholic school until my family moved to Florida when I was in fifth grade.

My doubts about religion started: I was never very engaged with religion as a kid. Homilies never made sense to me, and I never felt socially or intellectually connected to my church, but I was expected by my family to participate in the rituals and sacraments.

Like many Catholics, hypocrisy and abuse made me lose all respect for the church. And like many Catholics, as an adult I did not practice Catholicism in any way. Once I was in college and law school, reading the religious skepticism of others, I gave up any religion.

Things I like: Summer in Madison, visiting new places, laughing with my husband, narrating my dog's thoughts.
Things I smite: Bullying, violence and corruption.

In my golden years: I hope to be traveling with my husband or living at my future beach or lake house.

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Marshall enforces law without a badge

City Hall in Warren, Mich., got a lot more reasonable on April 28 thanks to activist and FFRF member Douglas Marshall, who was finally allowed to set up a "reason station" in the building atrium after a legal battle for equal treatment.

For years, the city let volunteers at a "prayer station" inside City Hall distribute religious pamphlets and offer to pray and discuss their religious beliefs with passersby. Marshall submitted an application in April 2014 to city officials to reserve atrium space two days a week for a reason station, where he would offer to engage in philosophical discussions with those who expressed an interest in a secular belief system.

But less than two weeks after it was submitted, Marshall's application — although nearly identical to the one submitted by the church sponsoring the prayer station — was rejected by Mayor James Fouts. In his rejection letter, Fouts accused Marshall of "intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion." (Fouts called FFRF "un-American" after FFRF sued him and the city in late 2011 over a nativity scene.)

Noting that the atrium was established as a public forum, FFRF, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Marshall in July 2014. The suit was settled in February, with the city agreeing to treat nonbelievers and believers equally.

The reason station will be open and staffed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. On opening day, about eight people expressed interest, Marshall said. "One lady thanked me for my persistence. One man said he was glad we were there and said he specifically came to welcome us. A few others came up and stated that they were also nonbelievers."

Local and major media, including the Detroit Free Press, covered the opening. Linda Jackson, 74, told the Free Press she stopped to pray but said, "It's a public place. I guess all are welcome, whether they believe Jesus is the reason or they don't."

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Oklahoma AG smears FFRF, misleads public

After the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters to 26 Oklahoma school districts about illegal bible distribution, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt went on the offensive (you can take that two ways).

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel's February complaint letters objected to letting Jamison Faught (son of state Rep. George Faught) and other Gideons International members distribute bibles to fifth-grade students during the school day. FFRF educated the districts on the law and advised them that if they continued to allow third-party distributions, FFRF would seek to distribute its literature.

Faught had bragged on Facebook about being allowed to distribute bibles "at every school in McIntosh, Okmulgee and Ofuskee counties except one or two. Last year, the Checotah principal not only personally took us to each classroom, but he helped us hand them out!"

In response to the letter, several schools ended their open forum policies, with at least one superintendent confirming he did not know the Gideons had been allowed into the schools. Gideons typically operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards, seeking permission from lower-level, less-informed staff.

In his response letter April 14 to superintendents statewide, Pruitt smeared FFRF and trumpeted false claims about government's hostility toward religion.
"Schools have a right to enact neutral policies that allow all viewpoints on religion to thrive," Pruitt wrote. "As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, I will not stand idly by while out-of-state organizations bully you or any other official in this State into restricting the religious freedom the Founders of this country held dear."
Seidel responded to Pruitt the next day, informing him that several districts contacted by FFRF already had such policies, but decided to "revisit the wisdom of these forums" after FFRF asked for equal time.

"It is obviously far easier for an Oklahoma student to get hold of a bible than it is to get hold of criticisms of the bible, which FFRF will seek to pass out in every public school forum that is opened under your offer," Seidel wrote. "If the goal of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office is to allow public schools to be used to distribute atheist messages, then this is a brilliant idea."

However, he added, "FFRF prefers that public schools focus on education rather than serve as a venue for divisive religious debates."

It's not the first time Pruitt has smeared FFRF. Last year, in discussing the Internal Revenue Service's inaction against pulpit politicking, he claimed FFRF "is unabashed in its desire to destroy" free speech and the First Amendment's free exercise clause.

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Eleanor McEntee

ELEANOR MCENTEE has over a decade of experience as a nonprofit bookkeeper and is very dedicated to nonprofit organizations.  In her free time, she journals, spends time with her cats Steven and MacNcheez, and rides her Harley all over Wisconsin and more!

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