FFRF welcomes 42 Lifers, 4 Immortals, 1 After-Lifer

FFRF is excited and proud to announce its 45 new Lifetime Members, one new After-Lifer and four Immortals.

Alfred Johnson is our newest After-Life Member, a tongue-in-cheek donation category of $5,000 for those who want their donation to “live on” after them.

Our newest Life Members are: Anonymous, Richard Andersen, Cyndi Barthel, Elliott Berenson, Anne Brading, Robert Butler, Becky Carpenter, Matt Carpenter, Fred Drennan, James Farrar, Melissa Geiger, Brad Gelineau, Ori Gottlieb, Robert C. Hailey, Eric Hall, Carlos Hernandez-Torres, Vincel Jenkins, Karl Johnson, Brian Kalman, Stephen King, Stephen Magowan, John La Marre, Rodney Miller, Marilyn Morgan, Stefanie Moritz, Ann Morris-Cockrell, Nikki Nash, Marilyn Nienkerk, Peter Nothnagle, Marc Orenberg, Gregory Page, Robert Poeschel, Nancy Saeger, Ron Saeger, Mel Schehlein, Dorothy Sedley, Debra Spear, Kenneth Veto, David Weitman, Audrey Wennink, Ted Warne and Jeffry Wujek.

Individual Lifetime Memberships are $1,000, designated as membership or membership renewal, and are deductible for income-tax purposes. 

States represented are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

Jeffrey Davies Bricker, Judi and Howard Frinstein, and Betty S. Waterhouse are our latest Immortals, a donation designation for those members who have contacted FFRF to report they have made provisions for FFRF in their estate planning.

Caption contest winner (December 2017)

Congratulations to Joe Todaro for winning FFRF’s caption contest from the November issue.

The winning caption is: “It looks like our prayers have been answered.

The top runners-up, in no particular order, are:

• I pity the poor bastard who had to deliver the eulogy. — Wayne Stafford

• This is why we haven’t heard from God in 2,000 years. — Robert Kerr

And these two, which are similar:

• So, Nietzsche was right! — Tom Drolsum

• I always thought that Nietzsche quote was metaphorical. — Jacob Dowd

Thanks to all who participated. We will have another contest in an upcoming issue. If you have any non-copyright-protected images (most likely that you took yourself) that you think would be good for a caption contest, please send them to [email protected].

Illustration by Kati Treu

Head’s Up poetry column: God’s Grandeur

God’s Grandeur

By Philip Appleman

“God will laugh at the trial of the innocent.”

-Job, 9:23

When they hunger and thirst, and I send down a famine,

When they pray for the sun, and I drown them with rain,

And they beg me for reasons, my only reply is:

I never apologize, never explain.

When the Angel of Death is black wind around them

And children are dying in terrible pain,

Then they burn little candles in churches, but still

I never apologize, never explain.

When the Christians kill Jews, and Jews kill the Muslims,

And Muslims kill writers they think are profane,

They clamor for peace, or for reasons, at least,

But I never apologize, never explain.

When they wail about murder and torture and rape,

When unlucky Abel complains about Cain,

And they ask me just why I had planned it like this,

I never apologize, never explain.

Of course, if they’re smart, they can figure it out—

The best of all reasons is perfectly plain.

It’s because I just happen to like it this way—

So I never apologize, never explain.

From Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie

© Philip Appleman.

This poem has been set to music by Dan Barker. The song is available on FFRF’s CD, “Beware of Dogma,” available at ffrf.org/shop.

Philip Appleman is a Dis­tinguished Pro­fessor Emeri­tus at In­dia­na Uni­ver­si­ty. He is editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Darwin. His published volumes of poetry include New and Selected Poems: (1956-1996), Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems: A Satirical Look at the Bible (2012), Darwin’s Ark (new 2009 edition) and Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie (2009). His newest book is The Labyrinth: God, Darwin and the Meaning of Life. He and his playwright wife, Marjorie Appleman, are both “After-Life” Members of FFRF. Phil’s books: ffrf.org/shop.

FFRF files brief against baker

FFRF has filed an amicus brief in the famous case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court about whether a baker can refuse a cake to a gay couple.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission seeks to radically redefine “religious freedom” as the right to impose one’s religious beliefs on others. Commercial businesses seeking exemptions from anti-discrimination laws are a prime example of this alarming argument. A Colorado baker refused to bake a cake for a gay marriage, contending his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment let his place of public accommodation discriminate against gay customers.

The Supreme Court has historically rejected free exercise challenges to neutral laws that regulate action, especially actions that harm other citizens.

There is no logical or practical way to draw a line between religiously motivated racial discrimination and racial discrimination motivated by nonreligious beliefs.

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment does not mean that anyone with a religious objection be permitted to disregard this religiously neutral anti-discrimination law.

Elevating religion and actions based on religious beliefs above the law by granting them exemptions to general and neutrally applicable laws will create chaos and have far-reaching effects, FFRF maintains.

Discrimination against atheists will increase. The bakery admits that its owner refuses to design custom cakes that “promote atheism,” along with those that promote “racism, or indecency.” Given that the company regards selling any wedding cake to a gay couple as “promoting gay marriage,” it’s easy to see how a desire not to “promote atheism” might similarly result in a refusal of service based on a customer’s atheism.

FFRF’s interest in this case arises from the fact that most of its members are atheists or nonbelievers, as are the members of the public it serves

FFRF’s Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert is the Counsel of Record on the brief, with principal writing by FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell.

Judge orders Lehigh County to abandon seal

A federal judge has ordered a Pennsylvania county to get rid of its seal that prominently features a Latin cross. The order follows up on a major court victory the FFRF obtained against Lehigh County in September.

“The Lehigh County seal adopted by the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 28, 1944, and all subsequent adaptations and versions of it that are currently being used or displayed and that feature the Latin cross (collectively the ‘Lehigh County Seal’) violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” says the order issued by U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith.

In his decision, the judge noted that the Christian cross, which both parties agree is “the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity,” dwarfs other symbols on the seal and therefore shows unconstitutional county endorsement of a particular religion.

The seal is on documents, letterhead, many official county forms and reports, the county’s website, in a display in the Board of Commissioners meeting room and even on flags displayed prominently at the entrance of county buildings.

The board adopted the imagery that appears on the seal in 1944. Allentown, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania, is located in Lehigh County, with a population of about 350,000.

Smith prohibited any use or display of the seal by Lehigh County after 180 days. However, the 180-day timeline will not start until any appeal by the county has concluded.

The judge also awarded nominal damages to each plaintiff in the amount of $1. During the appeal, the county is prohibited from implementing any new uses of the seal beyond those that are currently being practiced.

The litigation is being handled by Marcus B. Schneider of Pittsburgh, with assistance from FFRF Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Elizabeth Cavell.

FFRF thanks its four local plaintiffs who made possible the lawsuit: John Berry, Stephen Meholic, David Simpson, and Candace Winkler.

School board prayer case enters a new stage

FFRF’s lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District board for regularly praying is entering a new stage.

On Nov. 8, the case was heard before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif. FFRF is asking the appeals court to sustain a lower court ruling in its favor.

A district court in February 2016 granted summary judgment in favor of FFRF and its 22 plaintiffs, declaring the school board’s prayer an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. The decision also ruled that the school board policy and custom of reciting prayers, bible readings and proselytizing violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After FFRF’s victory, the school board voted to appeal the decision in a controversial 3-2 vote at a contentious meeting.

Chino Valley board meetings feature adults — board members, staff or clergy, nearly always Christian — delivering a prayer.

For example, board member James Na told the audience at one meeting that “God appointed us to be here.” Another board member, Andrew Cruz, told the audience at a meeting that the board had a goal: “And that one goal is under God, Jesus Christ.” Cruz then read from the bible, Psalm 143:8.

The school board argues that it is similar to a legislative board, invoking two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that permit, under narrow circumstances, governmental prayer. But, FFRF contends in its brief, “The meetings of the school board can only be seen as school functions.”

FFRF asserts that the board’s conduct clearly violates the Constitution — and that the judicial system will concur.

“We hope the 9th Circuit will agree with our contentions,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Public school boards can’t engage in such outrageously religious behavior and get away with it.”

David Kaloyanides is representing FFRF and the individual plaintiffs. The judges are Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Kim Wardlaw as well as Judge Wiley Daniel, a senior district judge of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

Judge should ‘nullify’ housing allowance

After FFRF’s historic victory against the clergy housing tax allowance, the judge’s next move is eagerly awaited. U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb, who in October ruled the clergy privilege unconstitutional, now must decide how to implement her ruling.

Crabb, seated in the Western District of Wisconsin, ruled in favor of a tax-code challenge by FFRF, saying it demonstrates “a preference for ministers over secular employees.”

In a fascinating twist, both FFRF and the government are urging Crabb to nullify this provision, rather than extend the benefits to others.

That provision, enacted in 1954 to reward “ministers of the gospel” for carrying on “a courageous fight against [a godless and anti-religious world movement],” permits churches to pay ministers with a “housing allowance.” The unique allowance is not a tax deduction but an exemption, allowing clergy to subtract major portions of their salaries from taxable income.

While ruling in FFRF’s favor, Crabb left open the remedy, giving FFRF, the U.S. government and religious intervenors the opportunity to file supplemental briefs.

The options include an injunction requiring the IRS to extend the benefits to FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who have been designated a housing allowance by FFRF, or to nullify the entire statute. The IRS has denied the pair a housing allowance. FFRF argues that allowing clergy this benefit while denying it to similarly situated heads of a nonreligious group is discriminatory.

FFRF is asking Crabb to prospectively nullify the statute, to order the IRS to refund the plaintiffs’ housing allowance and to award plaintiffs legal costs. Nullifying the law would mean that Section 107(2) could no longer be used to provide favorable tax treatment to clergy and churches.

This is FFRF’s second time in front of Crabb over this particular inequity in the tax code. Crabb ruled in FFRF’s favor in 2014, creating near hysteria by the clerical press.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled that Gaylor and Barker lacked standing to sue because they had failed to apply for a refund.

FFRF to hoist flag in New Hampshire to protest religious display

FFRF is expected to raise a first-of-its-kind flag — honoring atheism and freethought — to protest a New Hampshire town’s Ten Commandments display.

FFRF will sponsor the raising of an “A” flag in Somersworth, N.H. The flag will be up in the “Citizen’s Place” traffic island Jan. 2 through January to honor freethinkers. It was supposed to fly in December, but the city has postponed the date.

This year, the city installed two flagpoles near a contentious Ten Commandments monument at the traffic island for community groups to celebrate events. The addition of something other than a Judeo-Christian symbol is an attempted gesture by the city to get around legal precedent against stand-alone Ten Commandments markers on public property.

Two City Council members rightly objected to the entire concept.

“This plot of land can’t truly be a place for all citizens as long as it exclusively focuses on a religion not shared by all citizens,” Jessica Paradis said. “That is why we have laws that are supposed to separate church and state.”

Jennifer Soldati reinforced her fellow council member’s assertion.

“The optics of that little traffic island when you drive through now, especially since we have flagpoles, are further poking the eye of the Constitution,” Soldati said. “According to eight out of 10 court decisions, it does promote Christianity and it is in violation of the Constitution.”

FFRF agrees with the council members’ eloquent reasoning and has asked for several years that the Ten Commandments monument be removed. Meanwhile, FFRF wants to even it out with a freethought perspective.

“We believe the town needs to ‘honor thy First Amendment,’” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “With such a religious shrine glaringly on display, we have to present our viewpoint.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

FFRF gets legal backing in Florida cross case

This 34-foot tall cross sits in Bayview Park, a public park, in Pensacola, Fla.

FFRF’s legal action to remove an unconstitutional and massive Christian cross from a Florida city park has received a major boost.

More than a dozen organizations have filed an amicus brief in support of FFRF’s lawsuit to remove a 34-foot Latin cross towering over Pensacola’s Bayview Park. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is the main group writing the brief, with 13 other organizations joining in, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Center for Inquiry, Muslim Advocates and the Sikh Coalition.

On the opposing side, 14 states previously filed a friend of the court brief siding with the city of Pensacola in its appeal to keep the Bayview Park cross. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined 13 other state attorneys general in signing on to a brief written by Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall’s office.

FFRF and the American Humanist Association earned a major legal victory this past summer when Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that “the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property.” Vinson ordered the cross removed within a month.

Regrettably, the city appealed the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF and AHA and their co-plaintiffs in November filed an appeals brief asking the appeals court to affirm the lower court’s decision. The  amicus brief — and the heft of the 14 other organizations behind it — greatly bolsters the secular case with its persuasive arguments.

“When government displays a towering symbol of one religion on public land, it communicates an impermissible message of favoritism and exclusion that stigmatizes nonadherents while also demeaning the faith of many adherents,” the brief states.

The brief powerfully lists the many problems with the cross.

“The official display of the Latin cross — the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity — sends divisive and harmful messages that are directly contrary to this fundamental objective: It tells members of other religions, or of no religion, that they are excluded, second-class citizens,” it says. “It co-opts the Latin cross’s spiritual content for governmental purposes, offending many Christians. And it divides communities along religious lines.”

It compellingly concludes, “The judgment here is thus not only doctrinally compelled but also historically justified and critically important to prevent religiously based civil strife that would intrude on our fundamental commitment to religious freedom for all.”

The other groups signing on to the brief are: the ACLU of Florida, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Union for Reform Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism.

The plaintiffs in the case are Amanda Kondrat’yev, Andreiy Kondrat’yev, David Suhor and Andre Ryland. The case was brought by both FFRF and AHA, and handled by FFRF staff attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler and AHA’s senior counsel Monica Miller and legal director David Niose.

In the News: December 2017

This statue has been covered up because of complaints it was too sexually suggestive.

Saint statue covered up for being too suggestive

A Catholic school in Australia has covered up a statue of a saint giving a loaf of bread to a boy after complaints that it was too sexually suggestive.

The statue of St. Martin de Porres at Blackfriars Priory School in Adelaide shows the bread being held at crotch level as the smiling boy gazes up with a hand reaching for the loaf.

The statue was made in Vietnam, but a local sculptor has been hired to redesign it.

Photos posted online show the statue first covered in a dark shroud, then placed behind a black fence.

Citing bible, EPA changes adviser rules

Referencing the Book of Joshua, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced sweeping changes to the agency’s science advisory boards. On Oct. 31, the EPA announced that scientists who receive EPA funding cannot serve on the agency’s three major advisory groups, opening the door to more industry participation.

Pruitt said, “Joshua says to the people of Israel: Choose this day whom you are going to serve. This is sort of like the Joshua principle — that, as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do.”

A large coalition of science organizations, science advocates, environmentalists, and politicians lined up in fierce opposition to the policy changes, arguing the rules not only disqualify top environmental and health researchers from advising, but also favor scientists paid for by EPA-regulated companies.

Israeli paper: Biblical creation stories fables

The bible and its stories about the first man and the creation of the world are not true because there is no physical evidence to back it up, according to a new lengthy investigation from one of Israel’s top newspapers.

Haaretz compares accounts in the bible, from ancients Jews fleeing Egypt to descriptions of King David, and dismisses them all as fables.

The mounting evidence against the bible means fewer Americans than ever before are trusting scripture as gospel. Only 35 percent of Americans read the bible at least once a week, while 45 percent seldom or never do, the Pew Research Center reported in April.

Bible talks with teacher ended after complaints

Hudsonville Public Schools in Michigan ended faith-based discussions that Alward Elementary students were having over lunch with a teacher, following complaints by a civil rights group on behalf of parents.

“Every public-school teacher, principal, and superintendent should know that they are prohibited from engaging in any activity with students that involves religious beliefs, rituals, or doctrines,’’ said Mitch Kahle, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists and an FFRF Lifetime Member.

Kahle said his group was approached separately by two parents about teacher-led bible studies that had been ongoing this semester every Friday at lunch. He said parents informed the group that fifth-grade teacher Christopher Karel would read bible verses, tell a story or show a video and lead students in prayer.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Smith said he and Superintendent Nick Ceglarek met with Karel that day and, after confirming the allegation, immediately ended the lunchtime talks.

‘Nones’ more accepting of transgender identities

Among “Nones” — those who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” — 62 percent say they think a person’s gender is not necessarily determined by the sex they are assigned at birth, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

The survey showed that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Christians in the United States say that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by their sex at birth. Among Christians, 84 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe that gender is determined by sex at birth.

Most “Nones” (57 percent) say society has “not gone far enough” when it comes to accepting people who are transgender, and that transgender individuals should be allowed to use public restrooms corresponding to their current gender identity (70 percent).

Retreat from religion will accelerate

Projections from the General Social Survey show that, by 2030, a third of Americans will have no religious preference.

Since 1990, the fraction of Americans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled, from about 8 percent to 22 percent.

Over the next 20 years, this trend is expected to accelerate. By 2020, there will be more “Nones” than Catholics, and by 2035, they will outnumber Protestants.

Religious beliefs are primarily determined by the environment people grow up in, including their family life and wider social influences. Although some people change religious affiliation later in life, most do not, so changes in the population are largely due to generational replacement.

Among people born before 1940, a large majority are Protestant, only 20–25 percent are Catholic, and very few are Nones or Others. But these numbers have changed rapidly in the last few generations: among people born since 1980, there are more Nones than Catholics, and among the youngest adults, there may already be more Nones than Protestants.

However, this view of the data does not show the effect of age. If religious affiliation increases or decreases, on average, as people get older, this figure could be misleading.

Trump clerical official promotes racist myths

The director of community outreach in the Department of Homeland Security once said that cities become “slums” because black residents are afflicted by “laziness, drug use and promiscuity.”

Rev. Jamie Johnson, who directs the Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships at Homeland Security, has also said that the Muslim faith’s only contributions to the world have been “oil and dead bodies.”

Johnson has been a frequent guest on Christian radio shows where he discussed at length the inferiority of black people, the monetary talents of Jewish people and the threats people of other faiths pose to U.S. Christians.

Diocese says 8 priests sexually abused children

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn revealed that 25 years ago, Jaime Lara, then known as the Rev. James Lara, was defrocked by the Vatican for sexually abusing children.

The Brooklyn diocese hid his secret from the public, but posted Lara’s name on its website, confirming that he had been defrocked for the abuse. The diocese also belatedly posted the names of seven other former priests who were defrocked for child sexual abuse offenses.

The public posting was meant to partly respond to victims and their advocates who have pleaded for decades for the publication of all of the names of priests credibly accused or defrocked for child sexual abuse, to prevent the abuse of more children. About 15 dioceses have published partial lists.

Those seven priests represent a fraction of the Brooklyn and Queens clergy implicated in the 233 claims before the compensation program, which is awarding settlements to victims who agree to drop further action against the diocese.

Woman sues to remove phrase from oath

An atheist woman seeking citizenship in Massachusetts is suing to remove the phrase “so help me God” from the United States citizenship oath.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national who has lived in the United States since 2000 with a green card, says that the inclusion of the phrase is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom. Her lawyer, Michael Newdow, drew attention for a similar Supreme Court case in 2004, when he argued that the Pledge of Allegiance should be rewritten to omit “under God.”

This is Perrier-Bilbo’s second application for citizenship, according to The Sacramento Bee. The first time was in 2009, when she was offered the chance to participate in a private citizenship ceremony that would allow her to omit those four words. But the fact that the oath includes them at all is what she’s objecting to now.

GOP legislator quits after gay sex encounter

An Ohio Republican state legislator who consistently touts his faith and his anti-LGBT stances resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.

Rep. Wes Goodman, who is married, was seen having sex with a man inside his office. The witness told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe, who spoke with House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who then met with Goodman. Shortly after the meeting, Goodman resigned due to “inappropriate conduct.”

Goodman has consistently talked about “natural marriage” being between a man and a woman.

Goodman’s Twitter bio describes him as: “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican. Husband to @Beth1027.”

U.S. Rep. Huffman comes out as nonbeliever

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) has come out saying that he does not believe in God, although he hesitates to call himself an atheist.

“I suppose you could say I don’t believe in God,” Huffman told the Washington Post. “The only reason I hesitate is — unlike some humanists, I’m not completely closing the door to spiritual possibilities.”

He also said there is too much religion in politics.

“I’ve seen religion wielded in such negative ways around here, lately,” he said. “[President] Trump does it all the time, so implausibly.”

Huffman said that he’s not hostile to religion, and he does not judge other people’s religious views. He added that he doesn’t believe his religion is necessarily relevant to the work he does.

Survey: More Americans choose no religion

A new report shows that more than one-third of those surveyed are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” and more than half rarely go to church.

According to the American Family Survey, which asked about views on family, politics and social issues, 34 percent of respondents said they had no religious denomination, compared to 33 percent who identified as Protestant and 21 percent who said they are Catholic.

Baptists made up the largest Protestant group, at about 32 percent, with 19 percent saying they belong to a nondenominational or independent church. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed consider themselves “born-again” or evangelical Christians.