The Freedom From Religion Foundation is challenging South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s recent comments on the importance of prayer and religious mottos in public schools.
“The Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools because it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and interferes with the personal conscience of students,” charged FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker in a letter to Noem that listed five Supreme Court cases ending school-sponsored prayer over four decades.
David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Noem on Sept. 16 about the “spiritual state of our country,” something no secular public official has any business weighing in on. Brody couched the question as one of “spiritual warfare,” framing and language that helped stoke the January 6th attack on our Capitol.
Noem’s wide-ranging reply touched on the need for more bible-reading, more school prayer and the push to put “In God We Trust” in every South Dakota school:
We’ve seen our society, our culture, degrade as we’ve removed God out of our lives. . . . When I was growing up, we spent every Sunday morning, every night, every Wednesday night in church. Our church family was a part of our life. We read the Bible every day, as a family, together. . . . I don't know if families do that as much anymore, and those Biblical values are learned in the family, and they're learned in church when the doors are open so people can be there and be taught. We in South Dakota have decided to take action to really stand for biblical principles. We had a bill that was passed . . . two years ago that put the motto ‘In God We Trust’ in every single school building. It is displayed now in every K-12 school building in the state of South Dakota. And I have legislation I’ll be proposing this year that will allow us to pray in schools again. I really believe that focusing on those foundational biblical principles . . . will help us heal this division we see taking over our country.
FFRF takes issue with Noem’s blatant disregard for the Constitution and abuse of her position as a state governor. “Announcing this unconstitutional push just before Constitution Day is a deliberate slap in the face to America’s founding principles,” said Gaylor.
“Furthermore, your assertion that society and culture has degraded as we’ve removed God from our lives couldn’t be further from the truth. Scientific studies show that societies with less religion are better off,” wrote Barker and Gaylor in the letter.
The letter is not FFRF’s first challenge to Noem’s authoritarian Christian nationalism. FFRF challenged the “In God We Trust” law and is still seeking families in the state with kids who have been forced to attend a school displaying the motto. The state/church watchdog also put up billboards opposing the law.
The motto law — insultingly confusing patriotism with piety — was part of the nationwide legislative push by Project Blitz, which is a stealth campaign to inject religious bills into state legislatures across the country. The campaign, FFRF avers, is an unvarnished attack on American secularism and civil liberties, imposing Christian nationalism on “We The People.”
To date, no school prayer bill has been proposed, though a non-binding school prayer resolution passed last year. “Students can already pray in public schools,” noted FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, “but the Constitution prohibits overreaching officials like Noem from imposing their religion on other people’s children. So any school prayer law is either pointless or unconstitutional. Our legal team will be watching this closely.”
Barker said FFRF’s goal is to protect “the freedom of conscience of all students.”
A secular public education lawsuit that’s become a historic milestone is the subject of this Sunday’s Freedom From Religion Foundation “Freethought Matters” TV show.
The interview guest is three-time Emmy-winning independent documentary producer, director, writer and editor Jay Rosenstein. His “The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today,” which won a Peabody and an Emmy, tells the story of the case (McCollum v. Board of Education) that established the separation of state and church in our public schools. The show intersperses clips from the documentary with the interview.
“Apparently, the first day of the trial, a man sort of rushed in from the audience and ran up to the the opposing counsel and said, ‘I’m here to testify for the Lord,’” Rosenstein explains to “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor how the documentary got its title. “And the lawyer said in response, ‘Well, the Lord is not on trial here today.’”
The episode will be airing in over a dozen cities on Sunday, Sept. 19. 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 The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, Professor Ryan Burge (a leading expert in the rise of the “Nones”) and Candace R.M. Gorham, author of the upcoming book, On Death, Dying, and Disbelief.
“Freethought Matters” airs in:
“Freethought Matters” had an array of impressive guests last season. These included: pundit Eleanor Clift, actor and FFRF After-Life Member John de Lancie of “Star Trek” “Q” fame, Professor Steven Pinker, one of the most eminent global public intellectuals, and A.C. Grayling, a prominent British philosopher and the author of about 30 books, who grappled on the show with philosophy and the pandemic. The show launched its new season two weeks ago with clips from the best past interviews on the program, and last week featured an interview with famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
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!
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning a rally for the Jan. 6 Capitol attackers to be held at the site of the attack the day after Constitution Day. The rally, organized by a former Trump campaign staffer, is meant to recast the assault on our Capitol and our democracy as a group of freedom fighters oppressed by the Department of Justice.
Nothing could be further from the truth. These attackers have been given every measure of due process. The infamous QAnon Shaman has been given organic meals, hardly an oppressed political prisoner. Others have been allowed to await trial at home or to go on vacation to other countries — all manner of flexible, favorable treatment.
“There is no injustice to protest,” says FFRF Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, “Really, the main grievance of these rally organizers seems to be that there are consequences for people who attempted a coup.”
Law enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C., are on high alert, and have reinstalled fencing, even though far fewer attendees are expected than on Jan. 6.
The organizers have likened this “Justice for J6” rally to the civil rights movement, and even to groups like Black Lives Matter fighting for racial justice, specifically invoking George Floyd.
“They're trying to whitewash history so that the next time they attempt a violent overthrow of the government, there won’t be as much resistance,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
The attempts of the rioters to deny the truth are risible, FFRF contends.
“There is no political persecution of the insurrectionists who tried to steal an election and overturn a government,” Gaylor explains. “Those attempting the coup have been granted every protection of the Constitution they try to overthrow. And now, they have the temerity to protest that fair treatment in our nation’s capital on the day after we celebrate the very Constitution that protected them.”
FFRF has conclusively shown that the insurrection on Jan. 6 was fomented by Christian nationalism. The state/church watchdog’s report revealed that the members of Congress voting against certifying the election, which gave legitimacy to the attackers, were motivated by Christian nationalism.
“Christian nationalism is an identity that is based on disinformation, often rewriting American history, and here we are seeing that happen in real time,” says FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel, who’s written the definitive book debunking all of that disinformation.
FFRF will remain vigilant and continue to investigate the insurrection and this attempt to recast it. We will not let the world forget that Christian nationalism attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is heartened by new data from the Pew Research Center showing that atheists are among the best neighbors an American could wish for.
A just-released Pew report reveals that, among the groups measured, atheists are the most vaccinated “religious” group in the country, proving the truth behind FFRF’s “In Science We Trust” billboards.
Fully 90 percent of atheists are vaccinated, compared to just 57 percent of White evangelicals and 73 percent of the country’s adults overall.
“Atheists believe in this life, not an afterlife,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “and we don’t need a god to threaten us with hell to do the right thing. We’re good for goodness sake.”
FFRF emphasizes the underlying issues behind the disparate vaccination rates.
“This is one of the great moral issues of today — and religion is simply failing,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religious folks are often suspicious of a tiny little shot to prevent the spread of a lethal contagion that has killed 1 in every 500 Americans and has completely overwhelmed and overworked our heroes on the health care frontlines. It takes religion to make the immoral seem moral.”
The numbers show some interesting trends. Agnostics lag slightly behind atheists, while “nothing in particular” Nones are about average. Catholics score above average, and Hispanic Catholics even better than agnostics.
“It seems like a rare instance of American Catholics listening to their pope — and the pope having the correct message,” says Gaylor. “Now, if he would only apply himself to the scourge of rape and abuse within his church.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest association of freethinkers, has been urging people to get vaccinated and has been working to end religious exemptions to vaccinations even before the pandemic.
It is past time for Americans to listen to science and reason; clearly, religion is a roadblock.
A couple of Freedom From Religion Foundation billboards near Nashville megachurches are garnering a lot of attention.
The 14-by-48-foot bulletins, featuring a stained-glass window motif, proclaim not bible verses but advice to “Sleep in on Sunday” and “Enjoy life now — there is no afterlife.” The Nashville boards kick off a national campaign targeting what the state/church watchdog calls “irresponsible megapreachers.”
The eye-catching billboards are found on I-24 West, west of Briley Parkway, and on Lebanon Road, a mile east of Andrew Jackson Parkway. They recently went up for the span of one month. The billboard messages are directed at megachurch pastors Kent Christmas, of Regeneration Nashville, and Greg Locke, of Global Vision Bible Church, and their flocks.
Locke is the incendiary preacher who has perpetuated QAnon conspiracy myths and has castigated the pope, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks. He has called President Biden “demon-possessed,” Vice President Kamala Harris a “jezebel demon” and claimed they oversee “child-trafficking” tunnels underneath the White House. Locke termed Donald Trump the “legitimate” leader of the United States in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Most concerningly, the pastor was in the mob outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection praying with a bullhorn — and hyped the riot ahead of time. After the riot, he was banned by social media. Unfortunately, Locke remains influential, with more than 2 million followers on Facebook. One of his videos has been watched 34 million times.
Kent Christmas, who is founding pastor of Regeneration Nashville, and heads Kent Christmas Ministries International, has likewise insisted that Trump won the 2020 presidential election, and that the presidential race was “a war between heaven and hell.” Christmas, who is stridently opposed to abortion and gay rights, and routinely spouts off about “demons” and “sin,” claims to be a prophet of doom.
FFRF is advising the good folks of Nashville to ignore these figures.
“It would be far better to sleep in on Sunday — or commune with nature or volunteer to help someone — than to waste time getting infected with disinformation by either of these blowhards,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The only afterlife that ought to concern any of us is leaving our descendants and planet a secure and pleasant future.”
Locke recorded a video of himself burning a copy of the book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, written by Andrew L. Seidel, FFRF director of strategic response.
“America would be kinder, healthier and happier if fewer people listened to Locke and more listened to their conscience. Don't waste another minute swallowing the hate spewed by these peddlers of outrage.” says Seidel. “Take a nap instead.”
Gaylor notes that the “truly good news” is that church attendance in the United States is dropping off precipitously, with less than half of Americans claiming to belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 70 percent church membership in 1999.
Similar billboard messages from FFRF will soon be aimed at Houston megapreacher Joel Osteen.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members and a chapter in Tennessee. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.