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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Williamson County

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is prodding a Tennessee county to be more inclusive.

Many Williamson County residents have in recent years called for the retirement of the existing county seal due to the Confederate battle flag displayed inside the top left of the seal. The county voted to remove the flag in October of last year but the change requires approval by the Tennessee Historical Commission, which has yet to vote on this issue. There is another problem with the current seal, however, as a county resident has informed the state/church watchdog: It includes a bible and church window, which appears to also be a Latin cross representing Christianity.

Christian religious imagery on the official Williamson County seal violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF emphasizes.

“The seal signals an endorsement of Christianity,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line has written to the Williamson County Board of Commissioners. “This ‘sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

Federal courts have ruled that religious symbols on official city logos or representations violate the Establishment Clause, FFRF adds. The Williamson County seal design is akin to numerous other unconstitutional municipal representations.

And regardless of the unconstitutionality of the seal, the county should remove exclusionary religious images from its official representations as a matter of policy, just as with the exclusionary Confederate flag image. Nearly 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are non-Christian and 24 percent practice no religion at all. By remaining neutral on matters of religion, the county would embrace the diversity of its citizens, including non-Christian religious citizens and citizens who are nonreligious.

FFRF’s arguments seem to have found receptive ears.

“If the decision made by the Tennessee Historical Commission permits alteration of the seal, Williamson County’s Commission will then consider whether to alter parts of the seal, redesign the seal in its entirety, or retire the seal,” the county’s legal counsel has recently replied. “It is not our intention for any portion of our seal to exclude any citizen or to favor any one segment of our citizenry over another. When we are in a position to consider all of our options with regard to the seal, we will give careful and serious attention to the issues raised in your letter, along with all other relevant matters, in making our final determination.”

FFRF appreciates the positive response.

“We realize that there is a formal process for a redesigned seal to be approved,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The county’s reply makes us hopeful, though, that the new seal will be truly inclusive of all Williamson County residents.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 400 members and a chapter in Tennessee. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Richard Dawkins

An intellectual giant is the interview guest this Sunday on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Freethought Matters” TV show.

The famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is well known for his international blockbuster, The God Delusion. And you are probably aware of Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, in which he coined the word meme and which was voted by a Royal Society poll to be the most inspirational, influential science book of all time. His other books include The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, The Ancestor’s Tale and a two-volume memoir of a life in science. He now has a new work published: Books Do Furnish a Life: Reading and Writing Science.

“When it is such an exciting fact that we can explain things, to paper that over with a pseudoexplanation, a false explanation of a divine intelligence, a divine creator is just so sad,” Dawkins tells “Freethought Matters” co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The episode will be airing in over a dozen cities on Sunday, Sept. 12. 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” — Jay Rosenstein, the maker of a Peabody Award-winning documentary on the Supreme Court’s first public school religion case, and Candace R.M. Gorham, author of the upcoming book, On Death, Dying, and Disbelief.

“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.

“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 last Sunday with clips from the best past interviews on the program.

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!

Shutterstock

Amid the nasty anti-abortion moves that have been occurring globally, there is some good news that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is cheering.

On Sept. 8, Mexico’s high court delivered a unanimous ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to criminalize abortion in the country. This is significant because it nullifies criminalization laws for abortion in Coahuila, a Mexican state on the Texas border. The court president, Arturo Zaldívar, announced: “From now on you will not be able to, without violating the court’s criteria and the Constitution, charge any woman who aborts under the circumstances this court has ruled as valid.”

This is groundbreaking for women in Mexico, since 28 states currently penalize abortion with some exceptions and only four states allow abortion in most circumstances. Additionally, there are 4,600 open investigations to imprison women for abortions. FFRF applauds this ruling and hopes that Mexico will continue to prioritize women’s health care.

The country is heavily Roman Catholic. While there is no official religion, 80 percent of the population identifies as Catholic and many Mexicans see Catholicism as a fundamental part of their identity. The Catholic Church is a stalwart opponent of abortion rights and has repeatedly maneuvered to get abortion outlawed in Mexico. For example, in 2007, the Catholic Church in Mexico City gathered 32,000 signatures in the hopes of banning abortion. Additionally, the Church has threatened to excommunicate abortion-rights legislators.

Consequently, public approval for abortion rights in Mexico is only 48 percent, although this has steadily climbed. Indeed, many people were seen praying outside the Supreme Court when it handed down its pro-women judgment. Nevertheless, the work of Mexican women’s rights groups — as well as science and secular values — has prevailed with the Supreme Court’s decision.

Meanwhile, right across the border in Texas, abortion has been outlawed after six weeks of gestation and people can be paid $10,000 for successfully suing providers and individuals who help women obtain an abortion. As secular voters in the United States, we can look to Mexico as a source of inspiration. We need to ask our legislators to support the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would render the Texas abortion ban (as well as any other medically unnecessary abortion restriction in the United States), illegal.

The pushback against anti-abortion and anti-women tendencies needs to spread further into North America.

Photo via Shutterstock by Alejandro_Munoz

Keep State & Church Separate

Ron Reagan

If you're as alarmed as "unabashed atheist" Ron Reagan by the intrusion of religion into our secular government please join the Freedom From Religion Foundation. FFRF is the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founders intended.

JoinFFRFToday

Ron Reagan New Ad

A fresh version of an iconic Freedom From Religion Foundation ad featuring Ron Reagan is set to premier on Rachel Maddow’s and Stephen Colbert’s highly watched shows.

The updated spot, in which the “unabashed atheist” is still notably “not afraid of burning in hell,” will debut on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.” The ad is slated to run six times, starting Tuesday, Sept. 7, through Thursday, Sept. 9, and then from Tuesday, Sept. 14, through Thursday, Sept. 16.

The new 30-second spot will also appear six times on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” on CBS nationally, from Tuesday, Sept. 20, through Thursday, Sept. 22, and the week after from Tuesday, Sept. 28, through Thursday, Sept. 30.

This year is the first year that the CBS national network has accepted the ad.

In the updated TV spot, Reagan, a former ballet dancer, is still seated on stage in an empty auditorium — but the new ad is more colorful, with added technical pizzaz and a few minor modifications. Reagan’s memorable lines still sing:

Hi, I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed, as you may be, by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That's why I’m asking you to join the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founders intended. Please join the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.

Ron also recorded a more intimate 50-second digital spot reflecting on what’s changed since he first recorded the spot in 2014. Watch here.

Reagan, who is the son of President Reagan and Nancy Reagan, has spoken on FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” TV show about why he stopped attending church as a 12-year-old and what happened when he told his father. He has received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award for his outspoken, life-long identification as an atheist and advocate of the separation between religion and government.

After FFRF aired the ad during several Democratic presidential debates carried by CNN in 2019, Reagan was credited with “winning” and becoming the top trending search on Google.

“We are so grateful to Ron for continuing to lend his celebrity to the Freedom From Religion Foundation,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Everywhere we go, including in Congress, the public now recognizes FFRF, thanks to Ron, and realizes there are many atheists and freethinkers in America, including the son of a conservative president.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism. FFRF advertising is made possible by kind contributions from members. Donations to FFRF are deductible for income-tax purposes.