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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Time to reject bible-based death penalty

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation

While Wisconsin's reputation for progressivism is sadly overrated, there is one fact, as a state native, that I remain very proud of: Wisconsin was the first U.S. state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. (A few states never adopted capital punishment in the first place.)

Wisconsin has only executed one person since becoming a state in 1848. John McCaffary was hanged in 1851 for drowning his wife Bridgett. He dangled gruesomely for 20 minutes while slowly strangling, as a crowd of thousands in Kenosha watched in horror. The death penalty was repealed in 1853.

Today, some 32 states still officially have capital punishment on their books, plus the federal government and the military. This puts the U.S. in the company of the worst despotic regimes and Islamist states.

While the root source of capital punishment may not be solely biblical, in the Western world, the bible is the sourcebook for the death penalty. "Life, for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth," as Exodus 21:22 barbarically commands. "An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind," as Gandhi reputedly observed.

The crimes of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the convicted Boston Marathon bomber, are incomprehensible, horrific and cold-blooded. But it's cold-blooded for the U.S. government to execute him. It's so obvious: If killing is wrong, how can it be right for the government itself to sentence someone to death?

And, of course, Tsarnaev will become a martyr, at much greater taxpayer expense than the cost of keeping him imprisoned.

Perhaps not surprising in a nation where 70% are nominally Christian, 60% of Americans are in favor of the death penalty for Tsarnaev. But it's a credit to Massachusetts, which itself opposed the federal government's decision to seek the death penalty and has outlawed the state death penalty, that the figures were reversed: Only 30% supported the death penalty in this case.

One Boston couple, Bill and Denise Richard, lost a son in the bombing and were both injured. Their daughter lost a leg. But they still publicly opposed the death penalty for Tsarnaev. They wrote a poignant plea in the Boston Globe, "To end the anguish, drop the death penalty."

"We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed. We were there. We lived it. The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul." A death sentence, they noted, "could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives."

They concluded, "We honor those who were lost and wish continued strength for all those who were injured. We believe that now is the time to turn the page, end the anguish, and look toward a better future — for us, for Boston, and for the country."

It's time for the United States and the individual states to likewise "turn the page, end the anguish, and look toward a better future," by joining the rest of the civilized world in rejecting the death penalty.

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Secularists are on the march

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation

I've been saying for years that public officials, and the media, haven't caught up with the changing secular demographics in the United States. The newest Pew report on the growing population of religiously "unaffiliated," released last week, begs for attention by public officials and political candidates.

As Pew reported, "The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing." Christians have dropped 8% in just seven years, to 70.6%, while the percentage of those of us who describe ourselves as atheists, agnostics or "nothing in particular" has jumped more than 6%, from 16% to 22.8%. About a third of millennials remain solidly secular.

As New York Times writer Charles Blow points out in a recent column ("Unaffiliated and underrepresented"), 92% of Congress identifies as Christian, 5% Jewish, 0.4% both Buddhist or Muslim and only 0.2% "unaffiliated." The "unaffiliated" would be Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., not that these figures are fully credible.

While believing in God may be a "gotcha" issue, and it may be far easier to raise money if you're part of the Religious Right, there have always been closeted members of Congress. After all, a Pew poll last year found that not believing in God is the most negative trait a presidential candidate could have, so what ambitious national politician is going to look forward to coming out of that closet?

Blow correctly wonders "how long can this overrepresentation of Christianity and underrepresentation of the unaffiliated last in government?"

He also points to the paranoia of the Religious Right, which is panicking over what I call the "re-Enlightenment" in the United States, acting as if a return to secularism is an attack on Christianity. "The issue in America," Blow observes, "is less that Christians are persecuted as much as peevish."

The secular movement has the power to swing elections. Yet who is courting our vote?

If nonreligious Americans even get a nod, it's been as a mere afterthought by recent presidents in the context of religious freedom proclamations. Minorities much less statistically significant than the "nones" are routinely courted, while seculars have to pinch ourselves to know we exist. The fact that atheists and nonbelievers remain at the bottom of the totem poll in social acceptance shows the continuing domination of blind faith in our society.

Blow points out that the "unaffiliated" supported Obama over Romney by 51% in the last presidential election. For now, Blow writes, "unaffiliated is an identity as yet unaware of its power."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, while devoutly apolitical and nonpartisan, has long been aware of the power of secularists. We called attention to our presence in the last presidential election, releasing "I'm Secular and I Vote" T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers (still available at We've also sponsored "I'm Secular and I Vote" billboards.

We nonreligious are purists when it comes to secular government. At nearly 23% of the U.S. population and growing, it's time to flex some secular muscle and demand that politicians not only pay us some heed, but start promoting secular platforms.

We're seeing the heartening and overdue rejection of religious influence when it comes to gay rights and marriage equality. Now it's time to direct some attention to the right to be free of religious dogma when it comes to women and reproductive rights, increasingly under attack. We need a reason-based, not faith-based, response to climate change. We need to safeguard secular education and reject schemes to defund public education.

"Freedom depends on freethinkers" is FFRF's motto, coined by "Born Again Skeptic" author and early FFRF member Ruth Hurmence Green. Freethought is not only an intellectually respectable position —it's a must for progress, for humane government and for world peace.

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Lisa Treu

LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF.  She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin.  She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years.  Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself.  Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.

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Jake Swenson

JAKE SWENSON started as FFRF’s first graphic designer in 2015. He was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated with a degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. He enjoys music, cycling, photography, traveling, and coffee.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new legislation this Tuesday, May 12, that would offer up to $50 million annually in tax credits for donors who contribute to scholarship funds for private and religious school tuition.

The New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee is currently considering two similar bills: A02551, an Assembly version, and S1976-2015, passed by the New York State Senate in January.

Scholarship tax credit programs such as the one proposed by Cuomo have become a model for states that unwisely wish to subsidize private and religious education, particularly in states with a constitutional ban on school vouchers. These tax credit programs are yet another dubious "school choice" scheme that, like school vouchers, siphon funding from the public school system in support of private religious schools. Governor Cuomo's proposal creates a backdoor voucher system that would encourage donations to pay for private religious school tuition.

Education tax credits primarily benefit religious schools (which make up the majority of private schools). This bill is a huge priority for religious communities, particularly Orthodox Jewish and Roman Catholic. Cuomo even campaigned in support of education tax credits this week with the state's top Catholic leader, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who described the governor's proposal as "logical and so compelling." Many Catholic school administrators undoubtedly view the education tax credit program as a "Hail Mary" that they hope will stabilize declining Catholic school enrollment.

The proposed law is detrimental to New York's public schools. Tell your legislators, particularly members of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, that tax credits should not be used to finance religious instruction. Instead, tax money should be invested in the public school system to ensure that quality secular education is available to all New York students.

For more information about vouchers and tax credit programs, visit FFRF's Voucher FAQ: Dispelling the Myth of "School Choice."


Please phone and email members of the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee about this important issue.

Contact information for representatives can be found by typing in your address here.

A list of Ways and Means members may be found here.


Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste wording below. Mention if you are a constituent, a New York citizen, and if you have children in New York state schools.

[I am writing as a constituent, a New York citizen and taxpayer/with children in New York public schools.] I strongly oppose the Education Investment Incentives Act (including A02551 and S1976-2015), or any program to give tax breaks for donations to organizations that fund private religious education.

Tax credits should not be siphoned from public coffers and used to incentivize the financing of religious instruction. Instead, tax money should be invested in the public school system to ensure that quality secular education is available to all New York students.

Please vote against this unnecessary bill that would be disastrous for public education.

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