Freethought Today

Freethought Today (3859)

October 2018


Freethought Today, the only freethought newspaper in North America, is published 10 times a year (with combined issues in January/February and June/July). Edited by PJ Slinger, Freethought Today covers timely news related to state/church separation and includes articles of interest to freethinkers. To read select articles please click on the "Recent Issues" menu on the right. 

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In a legal twist, FFRF's success in getting a West Virginia school to stop its "Bible in the Schools" program was the reason a judge dismissed its lawsuit to permanently ban the practice.

In May, the Mercer County School District voted to suspend its "Bible in the Schools" classes for the following school year after FFRF sued in January over the unconstitutional program. Because the school was no longer teaching those classes (due to the board's action in response to FFRF's lawsuit), the court said the case was not "ripe" and declared the case moot.

FFRF filed a suit on behalf of four plaintiffs against Mercer County Schools, the Board of Education, the superintendent and a school principal. Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Faber's dismissal on jurisdictional grounds was without prejudice, meaning that the case can be refiled if the school system resumes any bible classes.

The lawsuit has received national attention, including a segment on "CBS This Morning" and coverage in the Washington Post. The "Bible in the Schools" program, which was offered in 15 elementary schools and three middle schools, is financed by donations, but administered by the school system.

FFRF and its plaintiffs are considering an appeal of the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, serving as co-counsel, noted that the school district has given no assurances it will not resume the inappropriate indoctrination.

The case has solid legal grounds.

Two of the plaintiffs, Elizabeth Deal and her anonymous child, "Jessica Roe," suffered harm due to the bible classes. Deal had to move Jessica out of the school system to end harassment at the hands of her classmates. Deal discussed her daughter's mistreatment on the "CBS This Morning" news segment.

"They taunted her about it," she told CBS on Feb. 8. "They told her that she was going to hell, that I was going to hell, that her father was going to hell."

Deal removed Jessica from Mercer County Schools to avoid the divisiveness, sending Jessica to a neighboring school district. The "Bible in the Schools" program and the treatment Jessica received as a result of not participating in the classes were a major reason for her transfer to a new school, according to FFRF's amended complaint.

"FFRF is fighting on behalf both of the Constitution and real-life human beings, including the youngest and most vulnerable students," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes.

Bible indoctrination classes were taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years until the FFRF lawsuit. The curriculum is the equivalent of Sunday school instruction.

FFRF's legal complaint lists examples of the proselytizing curriculum. Lesson 2 promotes creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such instruction unconstitutional in the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education case in 1948. FFRF won a court victory before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ending similar bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton), Tenn., schools in 2004.

FFRF legal fellow got job despite missing deadline

Name: Colin Edward McNamara

Where and when I was born: May 14, 1991, in Niskayuna, N.Y. As a nerdy kid, I thought it was super-cool that I share a birthday with George Lucas; as a nerdy adult, I think it's super-cool that I share a birthday with the Constitutional Convention.

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing and philosophy from SUNY-Oswego; JD from the University of Richmond.

Family: My mom and dad both live in upstate New York. I have one older sister and three step-sisters.

How I came to work at FFRF: It's a bit embarrassing, actually. I didn't find out about the fellowship until two days after the application deadline passed! I was devastated. Believe it or not, there's not a lot of opportunities to do Establishment Clause legal practice straight out of law school. I told my girlfriend about this great fellowship opportunity that I just missed out on, and she just said, "But you're going to apply anyway, right?" So I said, "Honey, the deadline's already passed." She just stared at me and repeated, slowly, "But you're going to apply anyway . . . right?" I took the hint. I sent off my resume with an email basically saying, "I know this is late, but I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't at least try." A few weeks later, I had the gig! Best gamble I've ever made.

What I do here: I'm the Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow, which basically means that I'm a lawyer with a really cool title.

What I like best about it: Talking with our complainants. I know as well as anyone that being the village atheist can be isolating, and the people who contact us often feel ostracized in their communities for their nonbelief. It's good to hear from them, address their problems, and let them know that they're not alone.

What gets old about it: Having some knucklehead tell me that "separation of church and state is NOT in the Constitution!!!!!" for the millionth time.

I spend a lot of time thinking about: In a perfect world? Life, the universe, and everything. Lately? The constant, looming threat of nuclear holocaust. 2017, amirite?

I spend little if any time thinking about: Football. Don't get me wrong, I like sports. I just don't get why everyone obsesses over football so much.

My religious upbringing was: I was brought up in what was ostensibly a Baptist church, but seems to have had more in common with the modern evangelical tradition — the bible is the inerrant word of God, the Earth is 6,000 years old, evolution is a damnable lie from the Pit of Hell . . . all that good stuff.

My doubts about religion started: I struggled with belief almost from the beginning. When I was 9 or 10, a family member that I love and respect asked if I'd ever accepted Jesus as my savior. I said I hadn't, but that I would like to. We closed our eyes, clasped our hands, prayed together and . . . nothing happened. I realized that I didn't feel any different. That was when I suspected that this religion business was all a bunch of make-believe. I haven't seriously looked back since.

Things I like: Reading and writing fiction, playing guitar, being with my girlfriend and our puppy, and devouring irresponsible amounts of sushi. If I could do all four in a 24-hour span, that would be the perfect day.

Things I smite: Olives, country music and authoritarianism. Not necessarily in that order.

In my golden years: I'd like to live out my latter days in a peaceful cabin in the Adirondacks with a good book in one hand, a whiskey snifter in the other, and a shotgun at my side to frighten people who step on my porch.

There are many ways you can donate to FFRF, including directly through our website (ffrf.org/donate).

Ways to give include the Combined Federal Campaign for federal employees, matching gifts, AmazonSmile, estate planning, stock transfer and IRA charitable rollover gifts, which apply to seniors 70½ or older.

Combined Federal Campaign

If you are a federal employee, you may make donations to FFRF through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) until Jan. 12, 2018. The CFC code to designate your contribution is 32519.

It is recommended that all CFC donors check the box to include their name and mailing address with the donation. Donors will receive an acknowledgment from FFRF when we receive pledge notification (throughout the year).

FFRF has been a CFC charity since 2007. Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. appears in the listing of "National/International Independent Organizations," which is published in each local campaign charity list.

Matching grants

Matching grant donations have become a significant boost to FFRF in recent years. Many companies offer to match (fully or a percentage) their employees' donations to charitable organizations.

Membership dues and donations are tax-deductible contributions and may be submitted to matching gift programs upon organization approval.

FFRF receives Charity Navigator's highest 4-star rating. Donations to FFRF are deductible for income-tax purposes.

IRA charitable rollover

If you are age 70½ or older, you may donate up to $100,000 to FFRF as a qualifying 501(c)(3) charitable organization directly from your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The distribution will not be treated as taxable income, provided the distribution is made directly.

To qualify, contributions must come from a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, and they must be made directly to FFRF. Additionally, the donor may not receive goods or services in exchange for the donation and must retain a receipt from FFRF.

The IRA rollover became permanent in December 2015, which is very good news for senior citizens. The donation benefit had been allowed to expire in 2008 and then renewed temporarily by Congress several times at the last minute, creating uncertainty and confusion.

Because it is available to taxpayers whether or not they itemize their tax returns, the rollover helps older Americans, who are more likely not to file itemized returns.

FFRF will send a "non-tax" letter receipt that documents your lovely charitable rollover gift!

Stock

If you are interested in donating stock to FFRF, please call Director of Operations Lisa Strand or FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor at 1-800-335-4021 or email FFRF (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

AmazonSmile

AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support FFRF every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you'll find the exact same prices, selection and shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. Visit our AmazonSmile donation designation page and select the Freedom From Religion Foundation to donate 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to FFRF.

The AmazonSmile Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation created by Amazon to administer the AmazonSmile program. All donation amounts generated by the AmazonSmile program are remitted to the AmazonSmile Foundation.

In turn, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates those amounts to the charitable organizations selected by customers. Amazon pays all expenses of the AmazonSmile Foundation; they are not deducted from the donation amounts generated by purchases on AmazonSmile.

Estate planning

Leave a freethought legacy in your name that will significantly help carry forward the vital work of FFRF.

Arrange a bequest in your will or trust, or make the FFRF the beneficiary of an insurance policy, bank account or your IRA. It's easy to do.

For related information or to request a bequest brochure, please phone Annie Laurie Gaylor or Lisa Strand at 608-256-8900.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was an official sponsor of Barry Lynn’s retirement after 25 years of leading Americans United, at a shindig Nov. 2 at the posh (but dark!) National Geographic building in Washington, D.C. The dinner party and evening of speakers also celebrated American United’s 70th anniversary year.

Many FFRF’ers were at the event, including Life Member Ellery Schempp (plaintiff in Abington v. Schempp), State Representative and Life Member Margaret Downey, Life Member Tom Schottmiller, and Life Member and sculptor Zenos Frudakis.

The event was emceed by comedian Lewis Black, who lent a light-hearted air. Speakers included Cecile Richards (video tribute), Terry O’Neill, immediate past president of National Organization for Women, Wade Henderson, immediate past president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Rabbi David Saperstein. Also speaking was Barry’s congressional representative and state-church supporter, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland’s 8th District.

Former board member stays busy helping others: by Nora Cusack

Name: Nora Cusack

Where I live: Madison, Wis.

Where and when I was born: Born in State College, Pa., in 1952 to grad student parents. Grew up in California; moved to New York at age 13 and graduated high school there; started college in Madison and never left.

Family: Husband of almost 45 years, Brent Nicastro, age 72, retired photographer. Elderly cat, Touza.

Education: I started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969, but never got a degree. I earned an associate degree from Madison Area Technical College in printing, was hired immediately and embarked on a 25-year career in graphic arts. I'm a lifelong learner.

Occupation: Retired from paid work. I am a former small-business owner. After my business partner and I sold our graphic arts company in 1996, I have primarily been doing volunteer work, save for a five-year stint as a staffer for FFRF in the 2000s. Past volunteer experiences have included: elementary school reading tutor; permanency plan reviewer for kids in out-of-home placement; helping the Wisconsin Supreme Court produce the first statewide compilation of Volunteers in the Courts; past board member of FFRF, Wisconsin Women's Network, NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, Community Shares of Wisconsin. Currently co-administrator/treasurer of the Women's Medical Fund, an all-volunteer statewide nonprofit abortion fund. I've also been an election poll worker for many years.

Military service: None. My husband served in the Army during the Vietnam era.

How I got where I am today: After my business partner and I sold our business, I discussed with my husband taking time out from the paid workforce and volunteering for a couple of years. A couple of years has turned into 20-plus years. Volunteering for social justice causes is sometimes frustrating but usually very satisfying work. I like being not only a witness but a participant in democracy.

Where I'm headed: Continuing to work for social justice.

Person in history I admire and why: All the women, famous and not, who have worked for reproductive justice.

A quotation I like: "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." — Gloria Steinem/Florynce Kennedy.

These are a few of my favorite things: Reading, politics, cooking, gardening, watching UW basketball.

These are not: Hypocrites who are opposed to government interference in all things except women's autonomy over their own bodies. Religious folks who want to impose their personal beliefs on others.

My doubts about religion started: I've never had religious belief. I am a second-generation atheist. Both my parents earned Ph.D.s in the sciences, so I grew up with a rational scientific view of the world.

Before I die: I'd like to see social justice achieved. I'd like election gerrymandering to end so that democracy can be restored.

Ways I promote freethought: Being out as an atheist, without proselytizing. I like people to get to know me, see that I am a nice, moral, honest person, then find out that I'm an atheist. Maybe change some stereotypes.

Why are you a member of FFRF? Because atheists need an effective defense against violations of state/church separation and an organization that educates about atheism. Too many people have negative judgements of atheists and think they have never met one. I'll borrow a saying from abortion activists ("Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion") and say, "Everyone loves someone who is an atheist."

14 groups have signed amicus brief in support of judge's decision

FFRF's legal action to remove an unconstitutional and massive Christian cross from a Florida city park has received a major boost.

More than a dozen organizations have filed an amicus brief in support of FFRF's lawsuit to remove a 34-foot Latin cross towering over Pensacola's Bayview Park. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is the main group writing the brief, with 13 other organizations joining in, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Center for Inquiry, Muslim Advocates and the Sikh Coalition.

On the opposing side, 14 states previously filed a friend of the court brief siding with the city of Pensacola in its appeal to keep the Bayview Park cross. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined 13 other state attorneys general in signing on to a brief written by Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall's office.

FFRF and the American Humanist Association earned a major legal victory this past summer when Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that "the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property." Vinson ordered the cross removed within a month.

Regrettably, the city appealed the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF and AHA and their co-plaintiffs in November filed an appeals brief asking the appeals court to affirm the lower court's decision. The amicus brief — and the heft of the 14 other organizations behind it — greatly bolsters the secular case with its persuasive arguments.

"When government displays a towering symbol of one religion on public land, it communicates an impermissible message of favoritism and exclusion that stigmatizes nonadherents while also demeaning the faith of many adherents," the brief states.

The brief powerfully lists the many problems with the cross.

"The official display of the Latin cross — the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity — sends divisive and harmful messages that are directly contrary to this fundamental objective: It tells members of other religions, or of no religion, that they are excluded, second-class citizens," it says. "It co-opts the Latin cross's spiritual content for governmental purposes, offending many Christians. And it divides communities along religious lines."

It compellingly concludes, "The judgment here is thus not only doctrinally compelled but also historically justified and critically important to prevent religiously based civil strife that would intrude on our fundamental commitment to religious freedom for all."

The other groups signing on to the brief are: the ACLU of Florida, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Union for Reform Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism.

The plaintiffs in the case are Amanda Kondrat'yev, Andreiy Kondrat'yev, David Suhor and Andre Ryland. The case was brought by both FFRF and AHA, and handled by FFRF staff attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler and AHA's senior counsel Monica Miller and legal director David Niose.

FFRF is expected to raise a first-of-its-kind flag — honoring atheism and freethought — to protest a New Hampshire town's Ten Commandments display.

FFRF will sponsor the raising of an "A" flag in Somersworth, N.H. The flag will be up in the "Citizen's Place" traffic island Jan. 2 through January to honor freethinkers. It was supposed to fly in December, but the city has postponed the date.

This year, the city installed two flagpoles near a contentious Ten Commandments monument at the traffic island for community groups to celebrate events. The addition of something other than a Judeo-Christian symbol is an attempted gesture by the city to get around legal precedent against stand-alone Ten Commandments markers on public property.

Two City Council members rightly objected to the entire concept.

"This plot of land can't truly be a place for all citizens as long as it exclusively focuses on a religion not shared by all citizens," Jessica Paradis said.

"That is why we have laws that are supposed to separate church and state."

Jennifer Soldati reinforced her fellow council member's assertion.

"The optics of that little traffic island when you drive through now, especially since we have flagpoles, are further poking the eye of the Constitution," Soldati said. "According to eight out of 10 court decisions, it does promote Christianity and it is in violation of the Constitution."
FFRF agrees with the council members' eloquent reasoning and has asked for several years that the Ten Commandments monument be removed. Meanwhile, FFRF wants to even it out with a freethought perspective.

"We believe the town needs to 'honor thy First Amendment,'" says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "With such a religious shrine glaringly on display, we have to present our viewpoint."

After FFRF's historic victory against the clergy housing tax allowance, the judge's next move is eagerly awaited. U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb, who in October ruled the clergy privilege unconstitutional, now must decide how to implement her ruling.

Crabb, seated in the Western District of Wisconsin, ruled in favor of a tax-code challenge by FFRF, saying it demonstrates "a preference for ministers over secular employees."

In a fascinating twist, both FFRF and the government are urging Crabb to nullify this provision, rather than extend the benefits to others.

That provision, enacted in 1954 to reward "ministers of the gospel" for carrying on "a courageous fight against [a godless and anti-religious world movement]," permits churches to pay ministers with a "housing allowance." The unique allowance is not a tax deduction but an exemption, allowing clergy to subtract major portions of their salaries from taxable income.

While ruling in FFRF's favor, Crabb left open the remedy, giving FFRF, the U.S. government and religious intervenors the opportunity to file supplemental briefs.

The options include an injunction requiring the IRS to extend the benefits to FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who have been designated a housing allowance by FFRF, or to nullify the entire statute. The IRS has denied the pair a housing allowance. FFRF argues that allowing clergy this benefit while denying it to similarly situated heads of a nonreligious group is discriminatory.

FFRF is asking Crabb to prospectively nullify the statute, to order the IRS to refund the plaintiffs' housing allowance and to award plaintiffs legal costs. Nullifying the law would mean that Section 107(2) could no longer be used to provide favorable tax treatment to clergy and churches.

This is FFRF's second time in front of Crabb over this particular inequity in the tax code. Crabb ruled in FFRF's favor in 2014, creating near hysteria by the clerical press.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled that Gaylor and Barker lacked standing to sue because they had failed to apply for a refund.

FFRF's lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District board for regularly praying is entering a new stage.

On Nov. 8, the case was heard before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif. FFRF is asking the appeals court to sustain a lower court ruling in its favor.

A district court in February 2016 granted summary judgment in favor of FFRF and its 22 plaintiffs, declaring the school board's prayer an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. The decision also ruled that the school board policy and custom of reciting prayers, bible readings and proselytizing violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After FFRF's victory, the school board voted to appeal the decision in a controversial 3-2 vote at a contentious meeting.

Chino Valley board meetings feature adults — board members, staff or clergy, nearly always Christian — delivering a prayer.

For example, board member James Na told the audience at one meeting that "God appointed us to be here." Another board member, Andrew Cruz, told the audience at a meeting that the board had a goal: "And that one goal is under God, Jesus Christ." Cruz then read from the bible, Psalm 143:8.

The school board argues that it is similar to a legislative board, invoking two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that permit, under narrow circumstances, governmental prayer. But, FFRF contends in its brief, "The meetings of the school board can only be seen as school functions."

FFRF asserts that the board's conduct clearly violates the Constitution — and that the judicial system will concur.

"We hope the 9th Circuit will agree with our contentions," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Public school boards can't engage in such outrageously religious behavior and get away with it."

David Kaloyanides is representing FFRF and the individual plaintiffs. The judges are Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Kim Wardlaw as well as Judge Wiley Daniel, a senior district judge of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

FFRF has filed an amicus brief in the famous case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court about whether a baker can refuse a cake to a gay couple.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission seeks to radically redefine "religious freedom" as the right to impose one's religious beliefs on others. Commercial businesses seeking exemptions from anti-discrimination laws are a prime example of this alarming argument. A Colorado baker refused to bake a cake for a gay marriage, contending his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment let his place of public accommodation discriminate against gay customers.

The Supreme Court has historically rejected free exercise challenges to neutral laws that regulate action, especially actions that harm other citizens.

There is no logical or practical way to draw a line between religiously motivated racial discrimination and racial discrimination motivated by nonreligious beliefs.

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment does not mean that anyone with a religious objection be permitted to disregard this religiously neutral anti-discrimination law.

Elevating religion and actions based on religious beliefs above the law by granting them exemptions to general and neutrally applicable laws will create chaos and have far-reaching effects, FFRF maintains.

Discrimination against atheists will increase. The bakery admits that its owner refuses to design custom cakes that "promote atheism," along with those that promote "racism, or indecency." Given that the company regards selling any wedding cake to a gay couple as "promoting gay marriage," it's easy to see how a desire not to "promote atheism" might similarly result in a refusal of service based on a customer's atheism.

FFRF's interest in this case arises from the fact that most of its members are atheists or nonbelievers, as are the members of the public it serves FFRF's Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert is the Counsel of Record on the brief, with principal writing by FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell.

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