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Vouchers hurt public schools

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FFRF sues florist in Rhode Island

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing a Rhode Island florist in Superior Court in Providence for refusing to deliver FFRF's order of a dozen red roses to Cranston teen Jessica Ahlquist after she won a court case in January 2012.

The complaint, filed Jan. 25, 2013, alleges Marina Plowman, owner-operator of Twins Florist in Cranston, denied FFRF "full and equal access to public accommodations by refusing to fulfill a flower order on the basis of religion (non-belief), in violation of Rhode Island General Laws."

FFRF filed a previous complaint in January 2012 with the state Commission for Human Rights. A preliminary investigating commissioner determined in October that "probable cause" existed to believe that Plowman violated state law.

The parties could have engaged in more conciliation with the commission, but the defendant chose to move the matter to Superior Court. FFRF has asked for a jury trial.

The defendant told a TV reporter at the time, "It's my freedom of speech. I refuse orders when I want and I take orders when I want."

FFRF filed a similar complaint with the commission about Flowers by Santilli's refusal to fulfill the order. Flowers by Santilli chose pursue mediation through the commission. A hearing is set in March.

Attorney Katherine Godin of Warwick is FFRF's local counsel in the lawsuit.

It is absolutely outrageous that the Boy Scouts of America, which has proudly excluded both atheists and gays from its membership, announced yesterday that lifting its ban on gays — but not atheists — is on the agenda for the biannual meeting of its national board in February.

BSA spokesperson Deron Smith said a change in policy toward atheists is not being considered because "Duty to God" is one of its basic principles.

With one in five Americans — and as many as one in three young people — identifying as nonreligious, clearly millions of nontheistic families and their sons are being treated as undesirable members by BSA. It should not be socially acceptable to exclude either gays or atheists. Talk about proof of who's on the bottom of the social totem poll in our culture!

BSA has always falsely advertised that "any boy may join" and has relied upon and received major governmental favors. In the 1970s, discrimination against atheists became entrenched as BSA adopted a religious litmus test, forcing parents of boys interested in joining to sign a "Declaration of Religious Principles" returned with membership fees. The declaration states: "The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."

No one can grow into the best kind of citizen being told it is good form to discriminate against nonreligious children. BSA needs to be reminded it is not what you believe that makes you a good person, but what you do. Wrapping oneself in a mantle of piety is often counterproductive of moral action, as witnessed by the way in which "God belief" was used by BSA to justify excluding gays and atheists.

Challenge the kneejerk assumption that professing an orthodox belief in an unprovable deity has anything at all to do with ethical conduct. Clearly, the outcome of such piety for BSA is immoral — it places dogma over people, in this case real children, teenagers and volunteer leaders who are being shunned for holding the intellectually respectable position that we need proof before swallowing dogmatic claims.

Religion builds walls between children, and religious litmus tests have no place in a fraternal organization with a congressional charter.

The media, in covering this story, properly recite BSA's unkind history of bigotry against gays and gay families. These same mean practices have also personally harmed and stigmatized nontheist families and Scouts. (And it should be remembered that many gays are nonbelievers who would still, on that score, be unwelcome in BSA.)

Here are just a few of the many instances of ostracism and discrimination on the basis of religion practiced in recent decades by local and national BSA leaders:

• Stripping model Boy Scout Darrell Lambert of Oregon of his Eagle Scout badge in 2002 because he is an atheist. Darrell was a Scouting and community volunteer who had won first place in his state athletic medicine competitions and volunteered as a search and rescue worker. He was singled out for his atheism by his district commissioner, who told the class an atheist cannot be a good citizen.

• Denying 6-year-old Mark Welsh of suburban Chicago of the right to join Tiger Cubs, after being solicited through his public school. When his father encountered the Declaration of Religious Principles and explained to BSA officials he could not in good conscience sign it, Mark was told he was an undesirable candidate and left the sign-up meeting in tears.

A lawsuit under the Civil Rights Act was lost to BSA, which has vigorously defended its exclusionary policies in many court battles, including its exclusion of gays in a Supreme Court test.

• Twins William and Michael Randall were expelled with no warning from the Orange County Cub Scout pack despite three years of Scouting experience. The BSA appealed their challenge under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and won the right to expel the twins. An agnostic den leader who sent a supportive letter to the Randalls was expelled, a common practice against those within BSA who have protested bigotry at the national level.

BSA has finally considered lifting its bigotry against gays after decades of protests and cut-off of major favors by corporations, public schools and some governmental bodies. That BSA is at least willing to reconsider its bigotry against gays shows it has listened to protest. Contact BSA immediately to urge it to take this opportunity to stop giving merit badges for bigotry — either against nontheists or gays.

It must be noted that the motion pending at its national board meeting is more than flawed. The Boy Scouts of America which had no problem dictating from the top down its absolute exclusion of gays in the past, announced it "would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation," but chartered groups (many of them Mormon) could "select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."

Contact and call BSA now!

Phoning is most effective! 972-580-2000

Email contact form:

Alternate Phone (National Help Desk): 877-272-1910

Wayne Brock, Chief Scout Executive
1325 W. Walnut Hill Lane 
Irving, Texas 75015-2079

(Writing letters to the editor and commenting at online sections at news sites and social media are also in order.)

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Individual Activism

14 Ways to Get Active, Right Now!

Freethought contingent of FFRF members
  1. Monitor local state/church abuses

    Work with the Foundation to protest clear-cut violations of the separation between church and state, such as prayers or religious instruction in public schools. Contact the Foundation office promptly with pertinent facts, names and addresses. You may mail or fax materials to FFRF's staff attorney:

    FFRF, Inc.
    PO Box 750 
    Madison WI 53701
    Fax: (608) 204-0422
    Online: State/Church Violation Form

    If it's an emergency violation (taking place soon at a school, for example), phone our office at:
    (608) 256-8900

    It it not easy to end violations where there is no established law or Supreme Court precedent to invoke. But a prompt complaint by a local citizen at the very least helps to educate about the importance of state/church separation, and may prevent a future or worse abuse.

  2. Write a letter to the editor

    This remains one of the cheapest and most effective ways to affect public opinion. Succinct letters (typed if sent by regular mail) with a clear focus, responding to timely issues, have the best chance of publication. Most newspapers prefer to print letters written directly to their editorial page editor (rather than photocopies or open letters addressed at large). Many Foundation members have been successful in having letters published which also publicize the Foundation‘s name, or even website or address. 

    Not to be overlooked: letters or emails praising newspapers, TV or radio shows for featuring secular viewpoints or guests. It takes courage to publish or include controversial opinions, to provide equal time for freethought. Positive feedback is always appreciated, and shows newspapers or talkshows such views have an audience.

  3. Join the campaign to pressure Boy Scouts of America

    The Boy Scouts of America has expelled or refused admittance to nonreligious boys, while relying on public handouts and support. In 2000, the Boy Scouts won a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled it a private group that is free to discriminate. The case in question involved gays, but the ruling leaves nonreligious Boy Scouts with little chance of legal redress. Local troops in the past have traditionally met for free at public schools and relied on public school teachers to recruit. If this is happening in your area, you can help combat BSA bigotry by contacting your local school board and neighborhood schools, asking them to stop supporting or giving preferential aid to an openly discriminatory group. You can also contact your local United Way, which is not supposed to fund groups which discriminate on the basis of religion. If they grant BSA troops financial assistance, ask them to stop. If you have been a regular United Way contributor, be sure to let them know. Nationally, United Way has traditionally provided at least a quarter of BSA‘s financial assistance. Write:

    United Way
    President Brian Gallagher
    United Way of America
    701 N Fairfax St.
    Alexandria VA 22314

    For the record, you may wish to complain to the Boys Scouts of America directly:

    Robert J. Mazzuca
    National Scout Executive
    Boy Scouts of America
    1325 Walnut Hill Lane
    Irving TX 75015

    For more information, see Boy Scouts of America Practices Discrimination.

  4. Don't vote in a church!

    In many places, one-third to one-half of all polling places are churches. Citizens should not have to fulfill their most civil function of all--voting--in a church or religious school. These days the cross is increasingly used as a symbol of political intimidation and many churches are not neutral on election issues. If you have to vote in a church, complain! Usually your city or county representative has the authority to suggest changes to polling places. A local rep is more apt than a bureaucrat to respond to a citizen complaint. Suggest secular alternatives (particularly those with handicapped access): libraries, public schools (it‘s so educational for students to witness Election Day), fire stations, malls, etc. Even if this abuse does not affect you personally, you may still wish to complain to your city clerk or registrar if this is a growing trend in your area. Polling sites are published in newspapers prior to local elections. In some states, polling sites receive public compensation, making this a more serious entanglement.

  5. Suggest the Foundation for talkshows

    There may be radio talkshows in your area that regularly feature out-of-town guests by long distance. Foundation staff can field questions from the Foundation office in Madison, Wisconsin. This is a good way to educate the public and reach other freethinkers. Talkshow hosts and producers are usually appreciative of guest suggestions—especially from their regular listeners—and if they have recently featured a religionist or religious topic, they may be open to a suggestion for balance.

  6. Make sure your local library carries freethought books

    Request your favorite freethought books for your library. Fill out a request card for Foundation-published books, including:

        • Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist by Dan Barker
        • One Woman‘s Fight by Vashti McCollum
        • The Born Again Skeptic‘s Guide to the Bible by Ruth Green
        • Women Without Superstition: ‘No Gods - No Masters‘ by Annie Laurie Gaylor
        • Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So by Annie Laurie Gaylor
        • American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll by Orvin Larson
        • Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children by Dan Barker

    If you are kind enough to donate books to libraries, please note that all libraries do not necessarily accept such donations, so it is wise to check with them first, then follow up to make sure they make it on the shelf!

    Freethought Books

  7. Request that your local library carry Freethought Today

    At least 5% - 10% of the people where you live are freethinkers, according to almost all polls, and as many as one third of them may be freethinkers if you live in the West. More than 15% of American adults are "nonreligious." There is every reason for your public library to carry a periodical catering to freethinkers.

  8. Offer Foundation CDs to local alternative radio stations

    Can you have a proper social movement without music? It‘s out there. Suggest your favorite freethought songs or bands, or try to interest your local alternative radio station or listener-sponsored radio station to play selections from the Foundation‘s two music CDs featuring Dan Barker: "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," a double CD with 34 traditional, contemporary and original freethought songs, and "Beware of Dogma," with 15 timely and timeless songs.

    Freethought Music

  9. Complain about TV evangelism

    Complain to your local cable TV provider about excessive religious programming. If your "cable package" includes a lot of religious programming, complain to your local cable provider each time you pay a bill!

  10. Sponsor a debate or public appearance

    College kids love debates and media often cover them! Staff member Dan Barker, a former fundamentalist minister who is ideal for debating religionists, would do a debate a month if he had the chance. If you have a connection with your local university, try to get a student group or department to sponsor a debate. Dan gives many freethought concerts at local UU and Ethical Culture congregations, colleges, etc., as well as speeches about the Foundation, freethought and the separation of church and state.

  11. Advertise freethought!

    Don‘t let religionists win by default! The Foundation often receives mail from a lone freethinker claiming to be the "only freethinker in Montana," the "only atheist in Utah, " or the "only agnostic in my hometown." Many freethinkers feel isolated because other freethinkers don‘t speak up. Let sympathetic friends and family know there is a group representing freethought and working for state/church separation. If you enjoy really advertising your views, the Foundation has produced bumperstickers, "nontracts," buttons, solstice cards, T-shirts, and sweatshirts with educational freethought messages. The best source for finding new members of the Foundation is you—the existing member.

    FFRF Shop

  12. Promote the Foundation‘s annual student essay contests

    One of the most important services provided by the Foundation is outreach to freethinking young people. Since 1979, the Foundation has sponsored an annual essay competition, awarding cash scholarships to freethinking youths. Today, the Foundation sponsors two essay competitions, one for currently enrolled college students and one for high school seniors who will be college-bound. The essays are announced in Freethought Today and online every February. Tell the students in your life, or the public schools or universities in your area, about this unique opportunity.

    Student Essay Contests

  13. Challenge friends and family to take the FFRF quizzes

    A fun way to learn about the harm of using the bible in government functions or invoking it in our laws is by taking the Foundation‘s online bible quiz. (Even believers may learn to look at the bible more critically by taking our quiz.) What Do You Really Know About The Bible? Even more important, every citizen should understand the secular nature of the U.S. Constitution and What Do You Know About State/Church Separation? is an entertaining way to learn more about the First Amendment.

  14. Sign up for "FFRF News" and "Action Alerts"

    If you are a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, you are eligible to be placed on the Foundation‘s FFRF News/Action Alerts email list. To sign up, check your email preferences after clicking 'My Membership' at the top of

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declared Jan. 22 — the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — as "Protect Life Day."

The opening line of his pandering proclamation is blatantly untrue. He states that the U.S. Supreme Court decision "legalized abortion for any reason for the full nine months of pregnancy in all of the United States."

Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the first trimester without restrictions; it limited regulation in the second trimester to protect the woman's health and safety; and it gave the government the right to restrict or bar third trimester abortions.
Statistics show that about 87% of abortions take place in the first trimester, with 12% occurring after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only about 1.3% are performed after the 20th week. Late-term abortions are usually to save a pregnant woman's life, such as when a woman discovers she is carrying a dead or brainless fetus.

Walker should retract and apologize to the citizens of Wisconsin for his shameful misstatement. Truth should matter, even to a fundamentalist.

We didn't elect Walker "Fundamentalist in Chief." He should keep his absurd Religious Right opinions to himself.

* * * *

We should be honoring, not casting aspersions, on this landmark decision for women's rights. As Margaret Sanger noted so many years ago in her quest to bring contraception to women, "No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation would not exist were it not for the Religious Right's war on reproductive freedom. My mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, had her eyes opened to the harm of religious sway over secular law when she founded the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion in 1968.

Tagging along with her as a junior and senior in high school, my eyes were also opened. Seeing the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda and hearing rooms crowded with nuns, priests and bussed-in Catholic schoolchildren invoking "God" and the bible in all their testimony, we realized that while there were many women's groups chipping away at women's oppression, none was going to the root of the problem: organized religion.

I still remember my own and my mother's ecstatic joy when we first heard the news about Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973. The brutal battle, state by state, to try to decriminalize abortion had been ended in one fell swoop. We didn't know then how vicious and unrelenting the religion-fueled anti-choice movement would be, but here we are 40 years later, and Roe, while a bit battle-worn, is still the law of the land. My mother has written about the historic fight to overturn antiabortion laws in Wisconsin in her book, Abortion Is a Blessing.  

Today, at 86, she is literally still answering the daily calls for the Women's Medical Fund, the abortion-rights charity she co-founded (with other atheists such as professor Robert West) in the 1970s. This pure charity has helped pay for abortions for more than 20,000 Wisconsin women — indigent women who should qualify for medical assistance but who are denied the right to abortion due to the Religious Right lobby, which has cut off abortion funding in Wisconsin and in many states and federally under the Hyde Amendment.

Daily she takes calls from teenagers, rape victims, victims of domestic abuse, those with many children already, ill and homeless women, living in conditions few of us can imagine, who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and no place to turn.

We are winning the reproductive war. We see U.S. Catholic bishops defeated in their attempts to sabotage the contraceptive mandate and bishops overseas failing to stop state-funded contraception in the Philippines. But as we celebrate 40 years of freedom for women, we must redouble our efforts to end the religion-fostered cut-off of public assistance for indigent women needing abortion care in the U.S. These forgotten and disenfranchised women deserve the same right to constitutional privacy, to control their own bodies, as the more affluent.

Atheists do indeed start and run charities. Please read the Women's Medical Fund's letter of appeal to learn more about the need. I challenge everyone who is offended by Governor Walker's proclamation, who has the means to do so, to fight back by making a charitable donation to the Women's Medical Fund.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is author of Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So and is editor of the anthology Women Without Superstition: No Gods — No Masters.

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