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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Roberts Court

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is disheartened over the do-nothing (just-released) preliminary findings of President Biden’s commission tasked with looking at expansion of the Supreme Court.

The Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, consisting of 36 legal scholars, lawyers and former federal judges, was created only to study the problem. But its draft materials have hid behind that tepid mandate and engaged in a craven attempt to please everyone — especially the court being examined. The draft is weak and utterly fails to recognize the critical problem the court presents. The commission’s bias against court expansion seems based in part on what it has said is a lack of public support, plus an exaggerated fear of unchecked growth in Supreme Court seats and the puzzling assumption that it might “reinforce the notion that the justices are partisan actors.”

The high court is already stacked with six partisan actors, including a third appointed by former President Trump using an extremist litmus test. Two of the Supreme Court seats were “stolen” by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to schedule hearings for Merrick Garland, nominated by President Obama with 11 months left in his term. McConnell effectively reduced the size of the Supreme Court that year by fiat and then hypocritically fast-tracked the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in the very midst of the ongoing national election last fall, a mere 30 days after she was nominated by Trump in late September.

FFRF has endorsed expansion of the entire federal judiciary — from the U.S. Supreme Court all the way down. Reps. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., co-sponsored a bill calling for the addition of four seats to the Supreme Court. The case for high court expansion includes the fact that the number of justices on the high court was historically tied to the number of circuit courts of appeals — and there are now 13 such circuits. The expansion of lower courts, woefully understaffed, should not even be considered controversial.

“Unfortunately, there is no way to redress these injustices except to expand the court, by at least two seats,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Only one example is needed to show just how far-reaching that harm is: If Garland were seated on the court today, as he should be, the Texas abortion ban would have been blocked by the Supreme Court last month.”

“The Supreme Court is captured, already ‘packed’ and partisan,” adds FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel, who helped vet and oppose many of Trump’s judicial nominees. “This isn’t the time to study the problem; we need to fix the problem. These conclusions fall woefully short of meeting the moment.”

“The commission itself was composed of people whose professional influence depends on the bounty of federal judges,” comments FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert. “We were never optimistic.”

Although the political window might be closing on immediate court reform, the country seems to be waking up to the dire situation presented by an extremist, partisan court. With the high court receiving its worst-ever public approval ratings (down to 40 percent), even the justices have been on a defensive tour. Justice Samuel Alito denied that the court is a “dangerous cabal” at a talk at Notre Dame. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in echoes of President Nixon, insisted (ironically at an event at the McConnell Center in Louisville) that the court “is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.”

It’s hard not to conclude that they do protest too much.

Although the final commission report will come down in mid-November, it seems foregone that it will be a wasted and missed opportunity to safeguard an independent judiciary — a debacle that will haunt our republic. The Trump Court is unanswerable, and is increasingly wielding its unfettered power in ways that not only undo the separation of church and state, but jeopardize all personal liberties.

Watch out.

Along with 100-plus other organizations, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling for public officials and policymakers to end the unjust stigma associated with abortion.

Crafted in collaboration with groups such as American Atheists, American Civil Liberties Union, American Humanist Association, Guttmacher Institute, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, SisterSong: Women of Color Collective and Whole Women’s Health, a joint open letter affirms that abortion is health care and that abortion stigma is core to the anti-abortion movement. This stigma manifests in harmful misinformation about abortion and in draconian legislation, such as the Texas abortion ban. Low-income, Black and Indigenous women, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community and rural women are most impacted by these harmful practices. Read the full letter here.

An important step to overcome this anti-science, religiously rooted legislation is to not be afraid to say the word “abortion.” Barbara Alvarez, FFRF’s inaugural Anne Nicol Gaylor Reproductive Rights Intern, has written a blog post piece about the importance of destigmatizing abortion through language. It can be read here.

The freethought and reproductive rights movement are working together to protect abortion from unfair stigmatization.

Charlotte Dennett

Watch the episode teaser here

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” show this Sunday interviews an author of a poignant family spy memoir and a previous work on a Rockefeller-financed missionary invasion of the Amazon.

Charlotte Dennett is a former reporter in the Middle East, an investigative journalist and an attorney. Her new book, which is very personal, is The Crash of Flight 3084: A Lost Spy, A Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil. It has a foreword by her brother, the famous freethinking philosopher Daniel C. Dennett III, who has also been on “Freethought Matters.” The book is about the mysterious death of their father, Daniel C. Dennett Jr., an American spy in the Middle East who was killed in an as yet unexplained plane crash in Ethiopia in 1947. Her previous books include The People v. Bush and Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, co-written with her husband, Gerard Colby.

“The leaders of the governments needed somebody out there in the hinterlands to protect the oil crews and the ranchers and so on,” Dennett tells “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor about Thy Will Be Done. “So they accepted having these evangelical missionaries come into the land as linguists who promised to teach the indigenous tribes to read and write in their own language. And then knowing their own language, they would then learn Spanish or Portuguese, which would better integrate them into the society.”

The episode will be airing in over a dozen cities on Sunday, Oct. 17. 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 Secular Coalition for America Executive Director Debbie Allen.

“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. 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. Recently, 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!