FFRF hands out more freethought badges

In an ongoing program, FFRF is giving out atheist badges for those in (or formerly in) Boy Scouts or Girls Scouts.

Scouts who wish to earn the badge are asked to write an essay that addresses the Boy Scouts of America claim that nonbelievers can’t be good citizens. To apply for a badge, submit a brief essay, which should include your full name, age, mailing address, and contact information to: [email protected].

Here are excerpted essays from the two newest badge earners.


I was raised in the LDS Church (Mormon Church). Both of my parents were Boy Scout leaders for my brother, so I went on the camp-outs, attended the weekly activities, and did all of the activities and work for many of the merit badges. My mom even asked me to teach the knot-tying and swimming merit badges.

I attended the award ceremonies and watched the boys get merit badges for the same things that I had done. I could not get any merit badges because I am female. As you can imagine, this was a painful experience. It pointed out to me the blatant sexism in the Mormon Church. That is one of the reasons that I left the church at age 17 and became an atheist-leaning agnostic. As you may already be aware, the Mormon Church recently decided that it would rather get rid of its scouting program than include girls.

Since leaving the church, I have continued to help my communities through active volunteerism. I would be incredibly honored to become a freethought merit badge recipient.

Tarrah Henrie (FFRF Member)


I was a Brownie and then a Girl Scout in the late 1950s to early 1960s. I started school just after they inserted “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and we were still reading aloud psalms at the start of each school day. (I still know a couple by memory.)

I had no idea until several years ago that

Tarrah Henri

the Boy Scouts required fealty to an imaginary being (the Girls Scouts do not. Yay, girls!), or that they prohibited gay scouts and leaders. I think it’s rather remarkable/inscrutable that they’ve made progress on the gay issue but not on the God thing. Until they do, I’m hoping girls will continue to stick with the Girl Scouts instead of the newly co-ed Scouts — and maybe one day boys will be able to join the distaff organization rather than give a God nod.

Of course, we all officially agree to things we don’t agree with, whether it’s lip service to supernatural beings in order to be part of a group that ties cool knots, or clicking on all those boxes we have to click to get credit cards or access to the cloud. But that doesn’t make it right, just a necessary evil that would be better if it were unnecessary.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been any kind of scout, but for decades I’ve been working on earning my merit badge as a freethinker, through support of FFRF and other kindred organizations (I write a weekly column for the American Humanist Association), and by trying to be a good person, as well as one who is up front about her atheism.

I don’t recall if I stayed in the Girl Scouts long enough to get any proficiency badges, as they were called. So this one from FFRF would be especially meaningful to me.

Joan Resiman-Brill (FFRF Life Member)

Head’s Up poetry column: Parable of the Perfidious Proverbs

A Poetry Column By Philip Appleman

PARABLE OF THE PERFIDIOUS PROVERBS

How better is it to get wisdom than gold.

Money buys prophets and teachers, poems and art,

So listen, if you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?

He that spareth his rod hateth his son.

That line gives you a perfect way of testing

Your inner feelings about child molesting.

He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.

But here at the parish we don’t find it overly hard

To accept his dirty cash or credit card.

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.

That’s just why the good Lord made it mandatory

To eat your heart out down in Purgatory.

Wisdom is better than rubies.

Among the jeweled bishops and other boobies

It’s also a whole lot rarer than rubies.

He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.

Trusting your heart may not be awfully bright,

But trusting Proverbs is an idiot’s delight.

From Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie

© Philip Appleman.

Philip Appleman is a Dis­tinguished Pro­fessor Emeri­tus at In­dia­na Uni­ver­si­ty. He is editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Darwin. He and his playwright wife, Marjorie Appleman, are both “After-Life” Members of FFRF.

Phil’s books: ffrf.org/shop.

Overheard (Sept. 2018)

The bond between America’s Christian nationalists and the Russian government goes back a long way, long before anyone conceived of the possibility of a Trump administration. . . The Religious Right thinks that it’s using Mr. Putin to advance its aims. But a far more plausible interpretation is that he is using them — to infiltrate, divide and weaken our country.

Katherine Stewart, in her column “What Was Maria Butina Doing at the National Prayer Breakfast?”

New York Times, 7-18-18


Consider this your semi-regular reminder that Jeffress, Fox News’ go-to religious authority, is among the city’s most divisive voices.

Robert Wilonsky, being quoted in a Dallas News article about how a Dallas billboard proclaiming “America is a Christian nation” by Robert Jeffress was taken down after drawing criticism and being labeled divisive.

Dallas Morning News, 6-21-18


According to Michael D’Antonio’s book [The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence], Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.” . . . Heaven help us.

Frank Bruni, in his column, “Mike Pence, Holy Terror.”

New York Times, 7-28-18


With its relative lack of diplomatic protocols and press coverage, the prayer breakfast setting is ideal for foreign figures who might not otherwise be able to easily get face time with top American officials, because of unsavory reputations or a lack of an official government perch.

Journalists Kenneth P. Vogel and Elizabeth Dias in the article, “At Prayer Breakfast, guests seek access to a different higher power.”

New York Times, 7-27-18


All bishops resign.

Banner unfurled during Mass at the Cathedral of Santiago in late July in front of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who’s denied covering up accusations of abuse in Chile under congressional investigations into 104 potential victims of the church’s “culture of abuse.”

New York Times, 8/1/18


Have you any idea of what Christianity has tolerated in this country? Supporting Vladimir Putin’s puppet is a trifle compared to the  enormous mechanism of horror that religion in America has enthusiastically endorsed, not for a few years, but for centuries.

Neil Steinberg, in his column, “Frederick Douglass reminds us: Christians supported far worse than Donald Trump.”

Chicago Sun-Times, 8-7-18

Gallery of cartoons, marquees, etc.

Looking to donate to FFRF? Here’s how!

There are many ways you can donate to FFRF, including directly through our website (ffrf.org/donate).

Ways to give include the Combined Federal Campaign for federal employees, matching gifts, AmazonSmile, estate planning, stock transfer and IRA charitable rollover gifts, which apply to seniors 70½ or older.

Combined Federal Campaign

If you are a federal employee, you may make donations to FFRF through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) until January 2019. Details can be found at opm.gov/combined-federal-campaign. If you wish to help FFRF through this campaign, the CFC code to designate your contribution is 32519.

It is recommended that all CFC donors check the box to include their name and mailing address (in addition to your e-mail) with the donation. Donors will receive an acknowledgment from FFRF when we receive pledge notification (throughout the year).

FFRF has been a CFC charity since 2007. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. appears in the listing of “National/International Independent Organizations” which is published in each local campaign charity list.

Matching grants

Matching grant donations have become a significant boost to FFRF in recent years. Many companies offer to match (fully or a percentage) their employees’ donations to charitable organizations. These matches multiply the impact of the initial donation to further the goals of the Foundation. Membership dues and donations are tax-deductible contributions and may be submitted to matching gift programs upon organization approval.

FFRF receives Charity Navigator’s highest 4-star rating. Donations to FFRF are deductible for income-tax purposes.

IRA charitable rollover

If you are age 70 1/2 or older, you may now donate up to $100,000 to FFRF as a qualifying 501(c)(3) charitable organization directly from your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The distribution will not be treated as taxable income, provided the distribution is made directly.

To qualify, contributions must come from a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, and they must be made directly to FFRF. Additionally, the donor may not receive goods or services in exchange for the donation, and they must retain a receipt from each charity to which a donation is made.

The IRA rollover became permanent in December 2015, which is very good news for senior citizens. The donation benefit had been allowed to expire in 2008 and then renewed, temporarily, by Congress several times at the last minute, creating uncertainty and confusion.

Because it is available to taxpayers whether or not they itemize their tax returns, the rollover helps older Americans, who are more likely not to file itemized returns.

FFRF will send a “non-tax” letter receipt that documents your lovely charitable rollover gift!

Stock

If you are interested in donating stock to FFRF, please call Director of Operations Lisa Strand or FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor at 1-800-335-4021. Or email FFRF ([email protected]) about your stock gift and we will gratefully reply with the information you need to make the transfer.

AmazonSmile

AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the exact same prices, selection and shopping experience as Amazon.com, with

Combined Federal Campaign

the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. Visit the AmazonSmile donation designation page and select the Freedom From Religion Foundation to donate 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to FFRF.

The AmazonSmile Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation created by Amazon to administer the AmazonSmile program. All donation amounts generated by the AmazonSmile program are remitted to the AmazonSmile Foundation. In turn, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates those amounts to the charitable organizations selected by customers. Amazon pays all expenses of the AmazonSmile Foundation; they are not deducted from the donation amounts generated by purchases on AmazonSmile.

Estate planning

Leave a freethought legacy in your name that will significantly help carry forward the vital work of FFRF for generations to come.

Arrange a bequest in your will or trust, or make the Freedom From Religion Foundation the beneficiary of an insurance policy, bank account or your IRA. It’s easy to do.

For related information or to request a bequest brochure, please phone Annie Laurie Gaylor or Lisa Strand at 608-256-8900.

FFRF welcomes new Life Members

FFRF is excited to announce our seven newest Lifetime and After-Life Members and two Immortals.

FFRF’s newest Lifetime Members are Howard Bostock, Jeff Gipson, David Hamer, Vincent Landis, Dennis McCurdy and Rob McMullen. States represented are Alabama, California, Texas and Ohio. Individual Lifetime Memberships are $1,000, designated as membership or membership renewal, and are deductible for income-tax purposes.

Our new After-Life Member is Emory E. Lynn. An After-Life Membership is a $5,000 donation for those who want their donation to “live on” after them.

Our two new Immortals are Sue Mandeville and Mike Koivula. The Immortals category is a donation designation for those members who have contacted FFRF to report they have made provisions for FFRF in their estate planning.

Meet a Member: Jack Egger drives message home with billboards

Name: Jack G. Egger

Where I live: Marietta, Ga.

Born: North Tonawanda, N.Y., in 1940.

Family: Wife with one stepchild and family, one younger brother with large family, and two sisters.

Education: Associate of science degree.

How I got where I am today: I left home after I graduated from Niagara Falls High School and went on the road with a rock & roll band and worked around the eastern U.S. for most of my 20s before settling in Atlanta. In my 30s, I went back to school and got my degree and went to work for the U.S. Postal Service as a maintenance mechanic for 26 years and worked part time as a musician on the weekends. I have been married twice and have been married 34 years to my second wife, who is a respiratory therapist. We have never spent more than we made and invested our extra money in stocks and bonds.

Person in history I admire and why: Albert Einstein, because he saw what was real about our universe. E=MC2.

These are a few of my favorite things: Music, science, swimming, camping and Jet Skis.

These are not: Myth religions.

My favorite quotation: “Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement of all societies.” — John Dryden.

My doubts about religion started: When I was a teenager, it started not to make sense to me.

What have you done for the freethought movement? I am a member of American Humanist Association, lifetime member of Atlanta Freethought Society and served on its board for a year, Secular Coalition, Center for Inquiry and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Also, I’m working on getting AHA and FFRF chapters in this area.

I am sponsoring a billboard campaign for FFRF this year in the Marietta, Ga., area. A large billboard with the message, “Supernatural belief — the enemy of humanity” has recently gone up in Marietta. Previous billboards that we have placed this year in the vicinity include one telling people to “Enjoy life — there is no afterlife,” another showing an astronaut in space with the slogan “In Science We Trust,” and one proclaiming “The only wall we need is between church-state.”

What’s your dream for freethought? I would hope there are some billionaires out there who feel that believing in the supernatural is a scourge on humanity and would be willing to help establish this institution I talk about in my essay, “The Conflict Between Science and Religion.”

In it, I write, “When religions that incorporate the supernatural are taken as the truth, this fuels climate change deniers, create wars, and promotes human rights violations. It’s also a major source of discrimination, creates most of the political divide in the world, and it takes away focus on the things that really matter to improve our lives here and now. If this isn’t bad enough, our governments give these religions tax exemptions, which violates the separation of the church and state clause as stated in the Constitution.

“What if all the true and good things of all the existing religions of today could be incorporated into one universal theology? This new theology will have its foundation based on science and humanism without any supernaturalism and would be called ‘humantology’ (or any other appropriate name).”

To read the full essay, go to jackeggerblog.wordpress.com.

Throughout 2018, Marietta, Ga., resident Jack Egger has generously underwritten monthly billboards for FFRF promoting freethought, science and the separation of state and church.
Jack Egger
“In Science We Trust” has been made into a billboard that has been displayed in Georgia.

Major victory for FFRF! Appeals court votes against prayer

FFRF, with 22 parents, students and employees of the Chino Valley (Calif.) School District, on July 25 won a major victory before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against prayer at public school board meetings.

FFRF’s lawsuit challenged the practice of prayer at Chino Valley School Board’s meetings, which resembled church revivals more than public meetings. These meetings opened with prayer and regularly included board members reading from the bible and proselytizing.

“The board’s prayer policy and practice violate the Establishment Clause,” a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled unanimously. “We hold that the Chino Valley Board’s prayer policy lacks a secular legislative purpose and therefore . . . violates the Establishment Clause. Accordingly, we uphold the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Foundation on this claim,” ruled M. Margaret McKeown, Kim McLane Wardlaw, circuit judges, and Wiley Y. Daniel, district judge for Colorado, sitting by designation.

Then-School Board President James Na injected Christianity into many of his official statements to parents and students at meetings. For instance, at one meeting, Na “urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him,” after which another board member closed with a reading of Psalm 143.

“These prayers typically take place before groups of schoolchildren whose attendance is not truly voluntary and whose relationship to school district officials, including the board, is not one of full parity,” the appeals court ruled. “Because prayer at the Chino Valley Board meeting falls outside the legislative-prayer tradition, we apply the three-pronged test first articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman for determining whether a governmental policy or action is an impermissible establishment of religion.”

The court differentiated school board 

Supporters of prayer at school board meetings hold signs while they listened to public comments during the Chino Valley Unified School District’s special meeting in Chino, Ca., Monday, March 7, 2015. The Chino Valley Unified school board is asking a higher power for help in its ongoing legal battle over prayer at meetings: the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo by John Valenzuela/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images)
Plaintiffs Michael Anderson and Larry Maldonado and attorney J.P. Kaloyanides, along with FFRF and 20 other plaintiffs, won at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

prayer from other forms of governmental prayer — a major issue before the court: “Unlike a session of Congress or a state legislature or a meeting of a town board, the Chino Valley Board meetings function as extensions of the educational experience of the district’s public schools. . . . Prayer at school board meetings cannot be understood as part of the historical tradition of legislative prayer identified in Marsh and Town of Greece.”

U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled in FFRF’s favor on Feb. 18, 2016, finding that “permitting religious prayer in board meetings, and the policy and custom of reciting prayers, bible readings, and proselytizing at board meetings, constitute unconstitutional government endorsements of religion in violation of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.”

The school board, pressured by a local megachurch to which three board members belong, voted 3-2 to appeal the decision.

The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit was not impressed: “The prayers frequently advanced religion in general and Christianity in particular.”

In an acknowledgment of the presence of nonbelievers in California, the court also emphasized how discriminatory the prayer practice was toward secular local residents.

“The purpose of respecting religious diversity, to the extent that it does not encompass nonreligious belief systems and their diversity, is itself constitutionally suspect,” it stated. “Atheists and agnostics comprise 4 percent and 5 percent of the California population, respectively. Neither the purpose of respecting religious diversity nor the means of doing so via prayer acknowledges or respects the beliefs of nonreligious citizens in the district.”

In another matter, the court addressed the practice by a rogue school board member, following FFRF’s district court victory, of sneaking in opening prayer during the public comment period. “It is therefore appropriate for the injunction to restrain board members from acting during the public-comment period to further school-sponsored prayer, and to prevent others from giving the school’s imprimatur to prayer at that time,” the appeals court added.

Bernal already ordered the school board to pay more than $200,000 for the initial case; now costs and fees associated with the appeal will add significantly to that number. As if they didn’t get the undeniable message, the board recently voted 3-2 to appeal their case to the Supreme Court, which is unlikely to take up the case.

FFRF and the plaintiffs are represented by Attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert and FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel.

FFRF sues over city’s reciting of prayer

A new lawsuit by the FFRF and two of its local members seeks to ensure that the city of Parkersburg, W.Va., complies with the First Amendment by halting its unconstitutional city prayer practice.

The federal lawsuit was filed July 31 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Charleston Division.

The lawsuit challenges Parkersburg City Council’s adoption of the “Lord’s Prayer” as the official Christian prayer, which opens every City Council meeting. The recited version is a biblical translation of Matthew 6:9-13 and concludes with a Christian doxology. Council members lead the prayer and are joined by city residents at each meeting in reciting it. FFRF charges that the prayers violate well-established law and exclude residents who are non-Christian.

Local plaintiffs include Daryl Cobranchi, who has frequently attended meetings and been directed to stand for the Lord’s Prayer, a practice, he notes, which has made him conspicuous by his nonparticipation and which “assigns to second-class status anyone who is not Christian.” Likewise, Eric Engle, also a Parkersburg resident, follows city matters and has felt uncomfortable and pressured to participate in the Christian prayer during public meetings.

At least one member of the City Council has been openly hostile to nonparticipants, the legal complaint charges. Councilman Eric Barber glared at attendees who sat during the prayer at a meeting in September. At the end of that prayer, Barber positioned himself near his microphone, pressed the button, and shouted, “Amen.”

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that sectarian legislator-led prayers were unconstitutional in the case Lund v. Rowan County, N.C. The Fourth Circuit opinion said, “The principle at stake here may be a profound one, but it is also simple. The Establishment Clause does not permit a seat of government to wrap itself in a single faith.”

The complaint on behalf of the plaintiffs states, “The City Council’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer has the primary effect of both advancing religion and expressing defendant’s preference for Christianity above all other religions and nonreligion.”

FFRF also is seeking a preliminary injunction, which would prohibit the City Council from continuing to open its meetings with Christian prayers led by council members. The plaintiffs’ brief says, “Given the similarities between this case and Lund, Parkersburg’s Christian invocation practice cannot stand. Plaintiffs’ right to relief under Lund is so clear that defendant’s practice must be enjoined on a preliminary basis.”

Marcus B. Schneider, Kristina Thomas Whiteaker, and FFRF Attorneys Patrick C. Elliott and Christopher Line are co-counsel on the case.

Parkersburg, W. Va.

Religious Liberty Task Force endangers wall of separation

Religious Liberty Task Force

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement July 31 of a “Religious Liberty Task Force” to enforce his theocratic “religious liberty” agenda is cause for grave concern.

The task force will be charged with carrying out Sessions’ 20-page Principles of Religious Liberty memo, which FFRF sounded the alarm on when it was released last October. The memo signaled an acceleration of the Trump Administration’s partnership with the Religious Right to redefine and weaponize the concept of “religious liberty” to allow religiously motivated discrimination and privilege Christianity.

During his announcement, Sessions, flanked by a Catholic archbishop and the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple in the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cake case, portrayed religious Americans as victims who are treated like second-class citizens:

“Under this administration, the federal government is not just reacting — we are actively seeking, carefully, thoughtfully and lawfully, to accommodate people of faith. Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought.

“We will take potential burdens on one’s conscience into consideration before we issue regulations or new policies.

“And this Department of Justice is going to court across America to defend the rights of people of faith.”

After boasting that the Justice Department had filed a brief on behalf of Jack Phillips, the cake baker who denied equal accommodation under Colorado civil rights law to a gay couple, Sessions ironically added: “We are aggressively and appropriately enforcing our civil rights laws, our hate crimes laws, and laws protecting churches and faith groups.”

The “religious liberty” memo that the new task force will be carrying out has the primary goal of exempting Christians and other religionists from the rules and regulations of civil society, especially including rules that prevent discrimination against others.

Sessions also claimed during the announcement that he has “seen nuns ordered to buy contraceptives,” which is untrue. Sessions was referring to a ministry run by nuns, which argued that filling out a five-line opt-out form in order to be exempted from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate was “a substantial burden on religious liberty.”

“The creation of this so-called Religious Liberty Task Force is an affront to the secular heritage of the United States,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s especially dangerous when combined with the Trump administration’s relentless packing of the judiciary with judges handpicked by the Federalist Society to legislate religious dogma into our laws and policies.”

During his announcement, Sessions also said “free exercise means a right to act — or to abstain from action.” In fact, citizens may believe as they like, but the right to act on those beliefs is by no means absolute. “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices,” the Supreme Court ruled 130 years ago. The Court asked: “Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?”

Sessions believes that Christians can violate the rights of others, including their rights to equal justice under the law, as long as those Christians are acting with “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

FFRF warned the Senate about confirming Sessions as attorney general, writing that he would tear down the wall of separation between state and church, which he called “a recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional.” Sessions was open about his belief that “free exercise also includes the freedom to act as one’s religion demands, even if such actions might curtail the civil rights of others, or run contrary to the law.”

“The Department of Justice doesn’t need a Religious Liberty Task Force, it needs a State-Church Separation Task Force,” says FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel. “Until we get a president and attorney general who understand the Constitution and are willing to defend it against religious privilege, the Freedom From Religion Foundation will continue to guard the wall of separation that is so vital to our secular republic.”

FFRF urges lawmakers to stand up for the secular Constitution they have sworn to uphold by telling the Department of Justice, loudly and clearly, that the DOJ should be protecting the religious freedom of all Americans, rather than granting special privileges to largely fundamentalist Christians.