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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering


Vaccine mandates are constitutional, and religious exemptions are unnecessary and harmful. That’s the clear, succinct argument FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel makes in a new column for Religion Dispatches:

The Spirit of 1776 was as much about science as it was about freedom. George Washington required the entire Continental Army to get inoculated against smallpox — the first armywide vaccination in history. Mortality dropped from 30 percent to 1 percent. Mandatory vaccinations just might have won America its freedom. From that auspicious beginning, Americans have let vaccine science protect our soldiers in the military, our students in school, our health care workers on the front lines — everyone.

Vaccine mandates are undoubtedly constitutional. The Supreme Court explained back in 1905 that freedom can be limited, especially when wielded to harm others’ rights: “The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States does not import an absolute right in each person to be at all times, and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint ...”

During World War II, the court specifically said that religious freedom is no excuse to shun vaccines: “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.” Even the late, uberconservative Justice Antonin Scalia singled out religious exemption from “compulsory vaccination laws” as not required by the First Amendment. Most state courts have independently reached the same conclusion.

Seidel highlights the work of FFRF and quotes Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on the luxury of herd immunity and what it will take to get us there. Take a look at the column to find out more.

Please read the piece on Religion Dispatches and share it on your social media so that people are aware of just how much is at stake and how we can solve the problem. Then start calling your senators.

Ryan Berge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” show this Sunday talks about the spectacular rise of the “Nones” — those of us with no religious affiliation.

The interview guest Ryan Burge, a professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, specializes in religious demographics. He’s the author of the new book The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are and Where They Are Going. Perhaps surprisingly, Burge has also been a pastor in the American Baptist Church for more than 13 years.

“I’m always interested in when things changed, like when things flipped from being more religious to less religious and what generation got caught up in that,” Burge tells “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And if you look at Gen X, it’s interesting because on almost every dimension, they look a lot more like their boomer parents than they look like Millennials. So you really see this huge drop off between Gen X and Millennials.”

The episode will be airing in over a dozen cities on Sunday, Oct. 10. If you don’t live in the quarter-plus of the nation where the show broadcasts on Sunday, you can already catch the interview on the “Freethought Matters” playlist on FFRF’s YouTube channel. New shows go up every Thursday. You can also receive notifications when we post new episodes of “Freethought Matters” by subscribing to FFRF’s YouTube channel.

Coming shows this season include interviews with renowned intellectual Professor Steven Pinker on his new book, Rationality, and with investigative journalist Charlotte Dennett (sister of philosopher Daniel C. Dennett), co-author of Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil and related books.

“Freethought Matters” airs in:

  • Chicago, WPWR-CW (Ch. 50), Sundays at 9 a.m.
  • Denver, KWGN-CW (Ch. 2), Sundays at 7 a.m.
  • Houston, KIAH-CW (Ch. 39), Sundays at 11 a.m.
  • Los Angeles, KCOP-MY (Ch. 13), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • Madison, Wis., WISC-TV (Ch. 3), Sundays at 11 p.m.
  • Minneapolis, KSTC-IND (Ch. 45), Sundays at 9:30 a.m.
  • New York City, WPIX-IND (Ch. 11), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • Phoenix, KASW-CW (Ch. 61, or 6 or 1006 for HD), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • Portland, Ore., KRCW-CW (Ch. 32), Sundays at 9 a.m. Comcast channel 703 for High Def, or Channel 3.
  • Sacramento, KQCA-MY (Ch. 58), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
  • San Francisco, KICU-IND (Ch. 36), Sundays at 10 a.m.
  • Seattle, KONG-IND (Ch. 16 or Ch. 106 on Comcast). Sundays at 8 a.m.
  • Washington, D.C., WDCW-CW (Ch. 50 or Ch. 23 or Ch. 3), Sundays at 8 a.m.

The show launched its fall season in early September with clips from the best past interviews on the program. Subsequently, it featured an interview with famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. A few weeks ago, the program focused on a landmark Supreme Court case against religious indoctrination in public schools, and two weeks ago it offered answers on how nonreligious people should deal with death. Last week, the interview was with FFRF Honorary Director Katha Pollitt, one of the nation’s foremost writers, freethinkers, atheists and feminists.

Please tune in to “Freethought Matters” . . . because freethought matters.

P.S. Please tune in or record according to the times given above regardless of what is listed in your TV guide (it may be listed simply as “paid programming” or even be misidentified). To set up an automatic weekly recording, try taping manually by time or channel. And spread the word to freethinking friends, family or colleagues about a TV show, finally, that is dedicated to providing programming for freethinkers!

Broken Arrow OK

Public school football baptisms are severe violations of public school neutrality toward religion, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is informing an Oklahoma school district.

A number of student football players were baptized on Broken Arrow High School property last month. Brian Preston, student director at Battle Creek Church, posted a smoking-gun video to Facebook documenting several baptisms that occurred on Sept. 5 after a Broken Arrow High School football practice. Preston confirms in the video that the baptisms took place “after football practice, right here at Broken Arrow High School.” He explains that 10 football team members “gave their life to Christ” and “those same students step[ped] forward in baptism in front of all their peers” after practice. Included in the video is a coach’s dunking in the baptismal tub, induced to “step foot into the baptism waters” after “he saw the faith in his players.” Preston rejoiced in witnessing “the team coming around each other taking a bold stand for Christ” and in God “drawing students to the baptism water.”

Public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion because the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits governmental entities from endorsing religion, FFRF emphasizes to Broken Arrow Public Schools.

“Courts have consistently held that public schools cannot organize, sponsor or lead religious activity at public high school athletic events, such as football practice,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman writes to Superintendent Janet Vinson. “When religious events take place directly after a team football practice, on school property, with coaches’ participation, these activities are perceived by reasonable students to be endorsed by their school.”

FFRF adds that federal courts have specifically held public school coaches’ participation in their team’s religious activity unconstitutional. Organization of and/or participation in a team baptism are clearly prohibited. The court in one case rejected a coach’s argument that the school district’s policy of prohibiting its employees from engaging in prayer with students violated the employees’ right to free speech. Neither can the Constitution’s prohibition against school-sponsored religious exercise be overcome by claiming such activities are “voluntary.”

When public high school football players are encouraged or compelled to engage in religious activity with their team, the school has violated the Constitution and the trust of the players and their parents, FFRF underscores. The team was effectively a captive audience for the evangelists from Battle Creek Church when Broken Arrow High School provided the platform of a football practice. The fact that a coach was then inspired to be baptized is probably the best example of the peer pressure induced by this religious spectacle sponsored by a public school on school property.

FFRF observes that fostering a religious viewpoint in a public high school sends an impermissible message to students that a certain religious belief is favored, especially in this day and age. Sponsoring a Christian baptism alienates non-Christian students, families, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted, including the more than 43 percent of young Americans — those born after 1990, which is the student body — who are not religious.

FFRF is requesting that the school district investigate the complaint and take action to ensure there will be no more religious events during school-sponsored activities, including educating coaches and school staff regarding their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacities.

“This egregious violation shows that this public school is all wet when it comes to enforcing constitutional rights,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Sports programs are for sports, not proselytizing.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 35,000 members across the country, including more than 150 members in Oklahoma. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.