In the News (June/July 2019)

Abuse survivors left out of boys ranch’s history 

Men who were physically abused during the 1950s through 1980s at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch are upset that their experiences are being airbrushed from the history of the ranch’s 80th anniversary celebration. Over 100 have come forward with stories of abuse at the privately operated home for at-risk youths near Amarillo, Texas.

Farley’s “offers professional therapeutic services in a Christ-centered atmosphere,” its website says. Allan Votaw, 66, who came to the ranch at age 5 with two brothers and spent 10 years there, remembers a “horror house” where staff whipped children until they were bruised and bloody and some were molested by older boys. “You lived in fear, you totally lived in fear,” said Votaw.

Beatings came for everything from forgetting a bible verse to getting a bad grade, it’s alleged.

Although the ranch is now offering to pay for counseling, the statute of limitations bars legal remedies. Ranch President Dan Adams said he believes the men but doesn’t want their stories included in the ranch’s account of its history or as part of a book and film being produced for the anniversary. Farley is not accused of abuse but was in charge during the period in question. The city of Amarillo named a Civic Center building the Cal Farley Coliseum after him in 1989. He was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a “Great Americans” 32-cent stamp in 1996.

Janet Heimlich, founder of an Austin-based nonprofit called the Child-Friendly Faith Project, is leading a group of men who are sharing their experiences. Heimlich, who is a longtime FFRF member, is the author of the 2011 book Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.

Movie pushes Poland to confront abuse by priests

In Poland, the two-hour documentary about abuse of children by priests, “Tell No One,” has been viewed online more than 21 million times since its release May 11.

Much of the abuse outlined in the movie took place in the 1980s. The revelations from the movie forced people to consider how Poland’s Pope John Paul II failed to take action to protect children.

As public outrage has grown, the government has been forced to respond. Parliament moved toward imposing harsher punishments for those who abuse children, and eliminating the statute of limitations on prosecution of such crimes.

After protests, Brunei says it won’t execute gays

Brunei announced on May 5 that it would not carry out executions by stoning for people convicted of adultery and gay sex, after widespread international protest over the brutality of such penalties.

Critics of the country’s newly enacted Islamic laws said several other harsh punishments remain on the books, including whipping and amputation, and they have called for continued opposition until the laws are completely revised.

The sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, said that his country had gone decades without carrying out the death penalty and that it would continue its de facto moratorium on executions despite the new punishments codified in April under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Buffalo police ordered to not arrest priests

The Buffalo, N.Y., police department were ordered not to arrest Catholic priests, according to a story in the Buffalo News. Instead, the police alerted the bishop’s office to any illegal activities.

The policy “only extended to Catholic priests,” former vice squad Detective Martin Harrington told the News. “If we caught clergy from other religions, we arrested them.”

“Something that serious, if it had been reported to our detectives, would have come to my attention,” former Buffalo Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske told the News. “I believe the church hierarchy would deal with these things themselves as opposed to going to police. It’s only in recent years that people are finding out that things were not being done properly.”

UCSF drops affiliation with Catholic hospitals

University of California-San Francisco announced May 28 that it has dropped plans for an expanded affiliation with Dignity Health, a Catholic hospital chain that puts discriminatory restrictions on abortions, transgender care and other services.

The decision reflects concerns that had been raised among UCSF medical professionals and advocates for women’s health care and LGBTQ advocates about the proposed affiliation.

Fundamentalist groups pour millions into Europe

Christian right fundamentalists linked to the Trump administration and Steve Bannon are among a dozen American groups that have poured at least $50 million of “dark money” into Europe over the last decade, OpenDemocracy reported in late March.

These groups have backed “armies” of ultra-conservative lawyers and political activists. A number of them appear to have increasing links with Europe’s far right and are spending money on a scale “not previously imagined,” according to lawmakers and human rights advocates, who have called the findings “shocking.”

None of these American groups discloses who its donors are — though at least two have links to famous conservative billionaires, such as the Koch brothers and the family of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary.

Michigan AG announces arrests for clergy abuse

Michigan law enforcement officials made their first arrests in a statewide investigation into Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse, the state’s attorney general announced on May 24.

Five former Catholic priests have been charged with criminal sexual conduct, Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a news conference. But hundreds, or even thousands, of alleged victims could still remain across the state, she said.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We anticipate many more charges and arrests.”

The charges were the latest effort by law enforcement nationwide to hold Catholic officials accountable for sexual abuse in the church. Four of the former priests were arrested in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan. The fifth faces possible extradition from India.

60% would consider voting for an atheist president

A 2019 Gallup poll showed that 60 percent of U.S. voters would have no problem if a presidential candidate is an atheist, the highest percentage to date. However, it still ranks second to last, behind only a “socialist.”

When it comes to analyzing the atheist support base, 71 percent of Democrats were comfortable with an atheist candidate, compared to only 42 percent of Republicans. Age matters too, with 72 percent of all voters below 34 years willing to support any openly atheist candidate compared to  54 percent of the 55 years and up voting population. Also, people with higher formal education support atheism more than the less educated.

Irony alert: Ark park sues over rain damage

Ark Encounter, Ken Ham’s monument to biblical literalism in Kentucky, is suing insurance carriers over coverage for rain-related damages to the property.

It is seeking to recoup what it says were $1 million worth of repairs, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs, and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.

After slightly higher than normal rains, a slope abutting an access road near the ark began to fail. Eventually, a “significant landslide” took out a barrier along the road. The theme park reported the property damage to its insurance companies.

But the insurance companies denied claims for the improvements, saying that the policy had an exclusion for correcting design deficiencies or faulty workmanship.

Heads Up poetry column: Gravity

A Poetry Column By Philip Appleman

Gravity

F=Gmm’/r2: directly proportional to the

product of the masses, inversely proportional to

the square of the distance…

One false step and you’re off the ladder,

plunging in free-fall through

a lifetime     proportional

to the product of its losses         down

through decades to Mother Earth       who breaks

your heart   your spirit     your bones

jarring your life into ceaseless pain.

And the pain that will not stop

is a poison vine, its roots deep in your chest,

is a snake reaming your veins, gouging our endless

yesterdays, the ceaseless pain

of history: night after night

you cannot sleep—in the dreary hours

you read about the Age of Faith,

when godly ones bowed to a holy

ghost, told their beads to a blessed mother,

and ripped off the screaming fingernails

of unbelievers; when priests, inspired

by the Pope’s own personal blessing,

tore off nipples with red-hot tongs;

when monks thumbed out the eyeballs

of heretics and saints, and seared their flesh

to purify their souls.

With enough gravity and pain,

with enough pain long enough,

we will see their glowing eyes: the fervent ones

on the march again. But because our memories

are inversely proportional to

the distance between them, we don’t recall

that when the high wall between priest

and politics is wrecked by frenzied mobs

screaming Hallelujah,

then the godly ones will lead us again—

our ears sliced off,

our tongues cut through,

our foreheads branded—

they will lead us triumphantly back,

back through our hazy memories,

to burn again

in an Age of Faith.

Overheard (June/July 2019)

In this country, citing religious or spiritual convictions is often a surefire way to get out of doing something you’re required by law to do. . . . It’s time to stop giving believers a pass just because their beliefs happen to run counter to the laws of the nation they live in.

Margaret Renkl, op-ed contributor, in her column, “We are taking religious freedom too far.”

The New York Times, 5-6-19


Bring it, Bible Bullies! You are bigots, sexists, and misogynists and I see right through your fake morals and your broken values.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims, in a tweet, after confronting protesters outside Planned Parenthood.

Twitter, 5-5-19


It’s a uniquely American problem. No other country has this kind of carnage. We are not going to give thoughts and prayers, which to me is just bullshit.

Sen. Cory Booker, to David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” saying that gun reform needs to be taken seriously.

CNN, 5-12-19


I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress. What Republicans are doing is using God.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, chair of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, after the House removed the phrase “So help me God” from oaths.

The New York Times, 5-11-19


Session after session, we end up entertaining legislation that sends a message to my LGBT staff members. . . .They feel they’re coming under attack for who they are. So, the question I have is: What do you say to them? Do you think Chick-fil-A needs more protection from us than our constituents who have a history of being discriminated against?

Texas state Sen. José Menéndez, during discussion of a religious liberty bill that would outlaw government retaliation against someone based on his or her association with or support of a religious organization. Proponents labeled the proposal the “Save Chick-fil-A Bill,” in reference to a provision that would allow the Texas attorney general to sue San Antonio for excluding the Christian-owned chicken franchise from its airport. The bill passed 19-12.

Texas Tribune, 5-15-19


The very fact that the Treasury Department and religious organizations claimed in their amicus briefs that “the survival of many congregations hangs in the balance” of the validity of the parsonage exemption is further proof that §107 functions as an active subsidy of religion.

Professors Bridget J. Crawford and Emily Gold Waldman of the Pace University School of Law, in a paper for the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law Online, on why the 7th Circuit’s unanimous judgment against FFRF was wrong.

The Friendly Atheist, 5-16-19


Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction. . . . Clericalism is both the underlying cause and the ongoing enabler of the present Catholic catastrophe.

James Carroll, a former Catholic priest, in his story “Abolish the Priesthood.”

The Atlantic, June issue


If we don’t want religious people on the right employing explicitly religious arguments for wielding power because of the separation of church and state, then why should we want someone on the left doing the same thing?

Justin DaMetz, graduate in theology and ethics from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, in an op-ed on Pete Buttigieg’s faith and how it has taken center stage in his presidential run.

Washington Post, 5-20-19

States begin push to challenge Roe v. Wade

Planned Parenthood

It’s been a busy spring for states that are taking action to restrict (or expand) access to abortion.

Several states, such as Ohio and Georgia, have passed bills that ban abortion once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. Others have been even more strict, including Alabama, which recently passed the strictest abortion law in the country, banning the procedure with few exceptions.

Several other states are considering “trigger” laws that would go into effect to ban abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

But some states, such as New York and Illinois, are trying to strengthen the abortion rights laws already on the books.

A big part of the reason these new bills have come up recently is that the antiabortionists hope they can force the Supreme Court, now with a solid conservative majority, to take up (and overturn) Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to abortion in 1973.

So far in 2019, dozens of states have put forth legislation related to abortion. Here’s a roundup of where those states stand on the topic:

Alabama

Gov. Kay Ivey in May signed into law the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban, which makes it a felony for Alabama doctors to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. The law has not taken effect, and the ACLU and Planned Parenthood announced a legal challenge.

Arkansas

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill in March that bans abortions after 18 weeks into pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies. The state also passed a law in February that would automatically make abortion illegal in Arkansas if Roe v. Wade were overturned. The law was expected to take effect in May, but the ACLU said it would sue.

Delaware

Two anti-abortion bills were introduced in January — one would ban abortions after 20 weeks, while the other would require women to view an ultrasound before they get an abortion. Neither bill made it out of the House Health and Human Development Committee.

Florida

A “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban died in a Senate committee in January. Another bill would require minors to get notarized, written consent from a parent or legal guardian to get an abortion. The bill passed the state House but died in a Senate committee.

Georgia

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a “heartbeat” bill in May that would ban abortions by six weeks of pregnancy. The ACLU said it plans to challenge the law in court. The state currently bans abortions after the 20-week mark. The bill would take effect next year unless it’s blocked in court.

Idaho

A bill was proposed in January that would seek to make abortion murder and end its exemption from the state’s current murder laws. The bill would repeal part of the existing state code that protects women getting abortions, as well as their doctors, from getting charged with murder.

Illinois

In February, a bill was introduced that would create a fundamental right to abortion in the state. Under the proposed law, there would be no restrictions on getting an abortion, and a woman could get an abortion at any time during her pregnancy for any reason. The bill is still in a House committee.

Indiana

The Supreme Court in May agreed to a compromise on a restrictive Indiana abortion law that keeps the issue off its docket, at least temporarily. The court said a part of the law dealing with disposal of the “remains” of an abortion could go into effect. But it did not take up a part of the law stricken by lower courts that prohibited abortions because tests revealed an abnormality. The court indicated it would wait for other courts to weigh in before taking up that issue.

In April, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed two other abortion-related measures, both of which limit access to the procedure. One law prohibits dilation and evacuation abortions, a common method used in second-trimester abortions. The law takes effect July 1, but the ACLU said it will sue.

The other would give more medical professionals the option to choose not to perform abortions or take part in abortion-inducing care.

Kentucky

Gov. Matt Bevin signed legislation in March banning abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, usually at around six weeks of pregnancy. A federal judge stopped the law from going into effect while it’s being challenged in court by the ACLU.

Also, a 2018 abortion law was struck down by a federal judge earlier this month. It would have halted a common second-trimester procedure to end pregnancies. Bevin has vowed to appeal.

Louisiana

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a “fetal heartbeat” bill  in May. The Louisiana House is also set to vote on a measure that would ask voters statewide if they want to add a line to the state’s Constitution saying it does not provide for abortions or abortion funding.

Massachusetts

A bill proposed in January is being considered to expand abortion access, allowing for abortions after 24 weeks. It was referred to a state Senate committee.

Minnesota

In March, a Minnesota Senate committee advanced a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in the cases of risk or danger to the pregnant woman. The legislation has stalled there.

Mississippi

Gov. Phil Bryant in March signed a bill banning abortions in the state once a fetus has a detectable “heartbeat.” The law was challenged in court by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Judge Carlton Reeves said it “smacks of defiance” and blocked it from going into effect on July 1.

Missouri

Gov. Mike Parson in May signed a bill banning abortion in the state at the eight-week mark in a pregnancy. The law takes effect Aug. 28, but legal challenges are expected.

Montana

Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a “born alive” bill that would require a fetus born alive after an abortion procedure to be treated as a legal person. Lawmakers also considered multiple laws restricting abortion in 2019, including a “heartbeat” bill and a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

New Mexico

The state Senate upheld an existing law making an abortion a felony, a law that would apply if the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

New York

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that protects access to abortion even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The law decriminalizes abortion and allows some late-term abortions in cases where the fetus is not viable or when necessary to protect the woman’s life.

Ohio

Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law one of the country’s most stringent abortion laws in April, banning abortion once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. The law will take effect in July unless it is blocked in court. The law is currently being challenged in court by the ACLU.

Utah

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill in March banning abortions after 18 weeks. A federal judge blocked the state from enforcing the law while it’s being challenged in court by the ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. The law creates criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy.

North Dakota

Gov. Doug Burgum in April signed into law a measure that outlaws a second trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation. In addition, abortion rights advocates are considering filing a lawsuit over a law that would require a clinic to read a script about reversing medical abortions.

Pennsylvania

House lawmakers approved in May a measure that would bar abortions solely because of a possible Down syndrome diagnosis. Aborting a baby based on its sex is already outlawed in the state. The bill has an exception permitting women to get abortions in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the woman. It was sent to the Senate.

Rhode Island

The state House passed a bill in March that would guarantee abortion rights in the state, but it was voted down by the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators have vowed to attach the bill to other legislation.

South Carolina

Gov. Henry McMaster has said he will sign a bill that would ban abortions at six weeks. The bill passed the state House but was not taken up by the Senate before the legislative session adjourned for the year.

Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee in May signed a so-called “trigger” law that would make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is altered or overturned.

Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign an abortion bill that would punish any doctor who failed to treat a fetus that survived an abortion procedure.

The Texas Senate also passed a bill eliminating exceptions for the state’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks. The bill is currently under consideration in the state House.

Vermont

Gov. Phil Scott is expected not to veto a bill making abortion a “fundamental right.” The bill, approved by both the House and Senate, would “recognize as a fundamental right the freedom of reproductive choice” and “prohibit public entities from interfering with or restricting the right of an individual to terminate the individual’s pregnancy.

Wisconsin

Gov. Tony Evers said he will veto abortion restrictions the state Assembly passed in May. One of the bills was the so-called “born alive measure,” which requires abortion providers to give care to fetuses who survive abortion attempts. Doctors would reportedly face prison time if they did not provide necessary medical care.

Founding Myth book tour

Theocratic Texas assistant AG smears FFRF

A theocratic official in the Texas attorney general’s office is busy maligning the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Texas First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer sent a letter on May 9 to San Jacinto County Commissioners, applauding their decision to maintain four large Christian crosses on the outside of the county courthouse building. His short letter misrepresents the law and attacks FFRF, which has asked the county to remove the crosses on behalf of a local citizen.

Mateer holds extremist legal views. He’s so extreme that after President Trump nominated him for a federal judgeship, his name had to be withdrawn after a national outcry. This disgraced, failed judicial nominee had previously worked for First Liberty, a virulently anti-LGBTQ Christian law firm that works to promote Christian nationalism. Most notoriously, Mateer has called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan,” a comment that was only one of the many outlandish statements FFRF highlighted in opposing Mateer’s appointment.

Written as part of his old job at the Texas attorney general’s office, Mateer’s letter to San Jacinto County is a brazen attempt to defame FFRF and to encourage the county to violate federal law to advance his personal religion, Christianity. His missive claims that the U.S. Supreme Court has called FFRF “an enterprising plaintiff” that the court has “found guilty” of “roam[ing] the country in search of governmental wrongdoing.” This is false (and inadvertently admits that Mateer is defending governmental wrongdoing). No court has ever found FFRF “guilty” of any crime, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never referred to FFRF as an “enterprising plaintiff.” Furthermore, FFRF only contacted San Jacinto County after a resident complained to it.

Mateer asserts, “While FFRF threatens more than it sues, it often loses when it does sue,” which is intentionally misleading on multiple fronts. FFRF has a solid litigation track record, winning 14 of 17 court decisions since the beginning of 2016. And FFRF didn’t “threaten” San Jacinto County, either. The state/church watchdog merely sent the county a complaint letter asking it to comply with the law on behalf of a local complainant. FFRF dispatches more than a thousand similar letters every year, successfully ending hundreds of state/church violations annually, and only sues as a last resort.

Mateer misleadingly tells the county that it “may display historical symbols, like crosses, without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” This is also false. As shown by the community’s reaction to FFRF’s challenge, where 600 people showed up at a county commissioner meeting to defend the courthouse crosses, there is no question that these large crosses are intended to promote Christianity. Although Mateer offers to “support” the county if it defends the crosses in court, he fails to mention that when the county loses, it will have to pay the other side’s attorney fees. (This is a common tactic for groups like Mateer’s old outfit, First Liberty Institute, and it has cost taxpayers millions.)

Instead of doing the important work of a state attorney general’s office, Mateer spends his time attacking nonprofits dedicated to defending the U.S. Constitution and urging Texas counties to violate the law so long as they do so in a way that advances Christianity. Mateer is treating the AG’s office like an arm of the Christian law firm he used to haunt. Texans should demand that Jeff Mateer be replaced by someone who will do the job rather than advancing a personal religious agenda.

The Lone Star State deserves better.

India’s vote a blow to secularism worldwide

The world’s largest secular democracy has moved further away from its foundational secular ideals, part of a global phenomenon that alarms FFRF.

India, like the United States, was established as a secular, democratic republic. The ascension to power five years ago of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who was banned from the United States for almost a decade for allegedly presiding over an anti-minority pogrom in his home state, struck a severe blow at these principles. His recent re-election (with a bigger parliamentary majority this time around) cripples these values even further.

Modi and President Trump have both blatantly pandered to majoritarian religious sentiments: Hindu nationalism in the case of Modi and Christian nationalism in the case of Trump. Indeed, religion forms a major part of their right-wing populist platforms. Other religious nationalists are crowding the planet, such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With Modi’s re-election, right-wing populists of various stripes are firmly in charge of many of the world’s largest democracies.

Modi joined the most prominent Hindu far right group, the RSS, as it is commonly known by its Hindi acronym, when he was 8 years old. A former member of the RSS, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi on Jan. 30, 1948, for supposedly being too indulgent toward Muslims. It is this sectarian vision that Modi offers his country, and which provides the basis for his organization’s political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP.

That vision has manifested itself disturbingly in two ways: Emboldened Hindu right fringe outfits have engaged in targeted assassinations of secular intellectuals. And there have been continual mob killings (including lynchings) of individuals suspected of trafficking in beef, a taboo for many Hindus.

Modi and his fellow party members controlling most of India’s states have made risible efforts to implement the Hindu nationalist ideology. Junk science that endeavors to trace modern scientific achievements to India’s ancient Hindu civilization (and extols the medicinal virtues of the cow) has pervaded Indian educational and scientific institutions. The federal and state governments have attempted to impose vegetarianism on the populace, in keeping with the beliefs of certain Hindus. There has even been a ridiculous campaign to replace Muslim-sounding place names with Hindu monikers. And the state government of Uttar Pradesh (headed by a hardline Hindu monk) has left out the Taj Mahal from a tourism brochure, reportedly because it considers India’s most famous monument too Muslim, and hence not Indian enough.

The Modi government’s obsession with religion has spilled over into the international realm. It has proven unwelcoming to the heavily persecuted, mostly Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. And it has created an uproar by instituting a national registry of citizens in the border state of Assam to ostensibly catch noncitizens from neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh, a step that may end up disenfranchising millions.

“Under Modi, minorities of every stripe ­— from liberals and lower castes to Muslims and Christians — have come under assault,” states a recent Time magazine profile of the Indian prime minister.

The repeat triumph of the Modi-led ruling coalition will likely bring an escalation of that assault and an intensification of the global sectarian project — a troubling future for India and the world at large. It’s time universally for secular forces to push back.

FFRF rips Trump administration for working faith into policy

President Trump’s acting chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget has admitted what we all know: Christian nationalism is infecting government policy.

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in April, Mick Mulvaney told his fellow Catholics: “The president has allowed us, Christians of all denominations, folks from all different faiths . . . to be very vocal about their faith, and to practice their faith, and to take their faith and work it into our policies.”

This isn’t a surprise. FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel broke the story that the White House Bible Study group influenced the Trump administration’s child separation policy. Religion has been corrupting public policy for some time, but it seems to be reaching new heights under the Trump presidency with the current wave of Christian nationalism.

We know that the Muslim ban was motivated by religion. We know that moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was motivated by religion.

We know that pretty much every move Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos makes to degrade our public schools and erode public education is primarily to promote her religion.

We know that Trump’s executive order on “religious liberty” was motivated by religion. That’s why FFRF sued over the order — and prevailed.

The warped Orwellian Christian nationalist definition of “religious freedom” has become a cause celebre in this presidency.

What’s most striking about Mulvaney’s comments is not the admission itself — which will certainly come up in a few court cases — but the brazen nature of the admission. Clearly, Mulvaney doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong.

FFRF exists to stop theocrats like Mulvaney from using the machinery of the state to impose his religion on every American citizen and, through our foreign policy, numerous non-citizens as well.

They Said What? (June/July 2019

Israel is on the side of God, and we don’t underestimate that.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman, speaking at a celebration sponsored by an American evangelical group to mark the anniversary of the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The New York Times, 5-14-19


Of course, it should be hard. And the procedure should be painful! And you should allow God to take over! And you should deliver that baby!

Michigan state Sen. Kim LaSata, speaking about a Republican push to outlaw the surgical procedure commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies, which would make such abortions more painful and hazardous for the women who undergo them.

Detroit Free Press, 5-15-19


As plain as day, God spoke to me. He said, “That wasn’t my bill,” talking about the heartbeat detection bill that I filed. I knew immediately what he was talking about. He said, “You remove those exceptions and you file it again.” And I said, “Yes Lord, I will. It’s coming back. It’s coming back.” We are going to file that bill without any exceptions just like what we saw passed in Alabama.

Florida state Rep. Mike Hill, signaling he will propose another anti-abortion bill without the rape and incest exemptions that were part of his previous bill which he pulled before it ever got a hearing.

Pensacola News Journal, 5-23-19


It concerns me as a parent that we are not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. As a board member, I am telling my fellow board members I am fully planning to investigate that because it troubles me.

Dothan (Ala.) School Board Member Chris Maddox, during a board meeting, after learning from his daughter than many students don’t stand for the pledge.

Dothan Eagle, 5-20-19


While I’m not proud of who I was in the past, I am proud that, with God’s grace and a strong support system, I’ve been able to achieve so much in the years since.

Cade Cothren, Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada’s top aide, who has a history of sending sexually explicit text messages and making inappropriate advances toward former interns, lobbyists and campaign staffers. Cothren has resigned.

The Tennessean, 5-6-19


Do our state a favor and mind your own business. Parental rights mean more to us than your self-enriching ‘science.’ . . . Make the case for your sorcery to consumers on your own dime. Quit using the heavy hand of government to make your business profitable through mandates and immunity.

Texas state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, in a pair of tweets denouncing vaccine advocate Dr. Peter Hotez, a Texas pediatrician-scientist who develops neglected disease vaccines for the world’s poorest people.

Houston Chronicle, 5-8-19


Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. So, as you go about your daily life, just be ready. . . . Throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian. It didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the bible.

Vice President Mike Pence, delivering the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., a Christian university. Pence warned graduating seniors that they needed to prepare for persecution from critics he described as “the secular left.”

Washington Times, 5-11-19


The separation of church and state is one of the most enlightened aspects of our country. But the Founders were not seeking to suppress religion. They were seeking to liberate and protect it.

New Age author and activist Marianne Williamson, who is a Democratic candidate for president.

Religion News Service, 5-13-19

FFRF Victories (June/July 2019)

By Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey

Alabama

FFRF’s intervention formalized an end to a teacher’s imposition of religion on her elementary school students in Birmingham.

A concerned parent had informed FFRF that a first-grade teacher at Norwood Elementary School was leading her students in prayer every day before lunch. The teacher was reportedly making her young students imbibe bible verses and Christian songs, including a song about “the blood of Jesus.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Lisa Herring about the constitutional problem.

FFRF recently received communication from the district’s attorney that due to the organization’s intervention, the Birmingham school district has instituted a formal policy on the matter. (The teacher had been verbally warned after an initial parent complaint.)

Arkansas

A religious sign was removed from a courthouse window at the Benton District courthouse following FFRF’s complaint.

A Benton community member reported that a sign hung in the window that read: “WE ALL FAIL. WE ALL FALL. BUT JESUS PICKS US UP EACH TIME AND REMINDS US WHO WE ARE.” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district court asking that it remove the exclusionary display.

The court swiftly responded, confirming the sign was removed immediately upon receipt of FFRF’s letter.

California

A concerned Clovis Unified School District parent reported that the district was opening its board meetings with prayer. According to the parent, board meeting agendas included an “invocation” which is “invariably a Christian prayer,” led by a board member.

FFRF Associate Counsel Liz Cavell wrote to the district, alerting it to the unconstitutionality of public school religious endorsement.

District Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell responded to FFRF: “The district is undertaking actions to comply with applicable laws with respect to the concern that was raised in your letter” and did not pray at a meeting in May.

California

A large bible verse painting has been removed from Muroc Joint Unified School District property after FFRF intervened.

A concerned parent reported that Desert Junior/Senior High School had a bible verse painted on a retaining wall near the main office. The verse cited was Hebrews 13:20-21.

Legal Fellow Chris Line urged the district to remove the display immediately, since it constituted an impermissible government endorsement of religion..

Superintendent Kevin D. Cordes recently informed FFRF that it has removed the bible verse painting.

Colorado

Pueblo City Schools has been instructed to cease religious activities as part of its football program after insistence by FFRF.

A concerned local resident reported that the East High School football team has a chaplain. An article published in the Pueblo Chieftain published last November called, “Faith and football” reported that “Dr. Mike DeRose serves as chaplain for the school’s football team.”

The night before each game, the team reportedly gathers for dinner and a religious message was being delivered by DeRose or another religious speaker. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to take immediate action to end any official chaplaincy program at East High School and to ensure that all coaches be reminded that they may not promote religion while acting in their official capacity, nor enlist an outside adult to do the same.

“The assistant superintendent instructed the East High football program to cease all activities following the pre-game dinner, that is, FCA activities, and motivational speakers, secular or otherwise,” the school district’s attorney responded to the letter.

Georgia

Davis Elementary School in Marietta has removed a religious advertisement from the front entrance from the school after FFRF sent a letter of complaint.

A Cobb County School District parent reported that the school was promoting a religious organization called “RISE UP!” by displaying a sign for the group on school property.

RISE UP! is a Christian organization where “elementary students are their families can learn about God’s unconditional love and can strengthen their character by applying Biblical principles to their lives.”

Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, alerting him to the unconstitutionality of promoting religious messages on school grounds. The district’s attorney responded with assurances that the sign is no longer on display in front of the elementary school.

Kansas

The Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners has agreed to let an atheist give a secular invocation following FFRF’s challenge to its original denial of the request.

A Sedgwick County resident told FFRF he had been denied the opportunity to present an invocation before the Board of County Commissioners because he is an atheist and the request to speak was “not made on behalf of a religious group.”

Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the board, pointing out that while the practice of government prayer itself is divisive and ill-advised, if the board allows religious groups to deliver a prayer it is unconstitutional to bar atheists from doing the same.

The board responded, indicating that they will now allow our secular complainant to deliver a nonreligious address before the Board of County Commissioners.

Kansas

Woodson School District #366 has removed a religious advertisement from its social media page after FFRF’s intervention.

A district parent alerted FFRF to an advertisement for a religious baccalaureate event taking place at the Toronto Cowboy Church on the district’s official Facebook page. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district pointing out the unconstitutionality of such religious promotion.

The district confirmed it has since removed the post.

Kentucky

A concerned parent reported that a biology teacher at Daviess County High School was regularly promoting Christianity to students, including showing videos of sermons in class. At least one of these videos, reviewed by FFRF, showed a bloodied Jesus hanging on the cross while a pastor, Louie Giglio, delivered a sermon in which he attributes an image of the distant galaxy photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope directly to God. (See page 20 for story from the student’s perspective.)

Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district, alerting it to this egregious constitutional violation and to submit an open record request for any records pertaining to this violation.

Upon receiving the thorough open records response detailing the school’s internal investigation of the incident, FFRF has confirmed that appropriate action was taken to reprimand the teacher and to ensure that this sort of violation will not reoccur.

Michigan

Hamilton Community Schools will make changes to its current protocol regarding a religious baccalaureate program after FFRF intervention.

A district parent informed FFRF that Hamilton Community Schools sponsored and promoted a baccalaureate ceremony for graduating seniors held at a local church. The event was listed in the “senior itinerary,” which was distributed to all seniors during a class meeting. The senior itinerary also listed a rehearsal for the baccalaureate during instructional time. Students were presumed to be attending the baccalaureate ceremony unless they “opted-out” by signing their name on a list in the main office or emailing the school secretary.

Furthermore, Hamilton High School evidently shared students’ names and home addresses with the church for the purpose of mailing baccalaureate invitations. These invitations, which bear the Hamilton High School official logo, invite the student and their family to attend a ceremony held “in your honor and to God’s glory.” Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the district to request that it completely dissociate itself from the baccalaureate.

The district’s attorney confirmed the district addressed these concerns. The superintendent further notified the ministry that they would need to find an alternative location for the practice and students would not be excused from class in order to participate in the rehearsal. Significantly, the district will also no longer automatically provide the ministry with the names of addresses of graduating seniors.

Minnesota

Fulda High School’s decided, after hearing from FFRF, to forego prayer at high school graduation this year in favor of a valedictorian speech and a nonreligious moment of silence.

A concerned Fulda Independent School District community member reported to FFRF that the 2019 high school graduation ceremony was set to open and close with a prayer. This had reportedly been a regular practice at Fulda High School graduations for years.

FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Loy Woelber to ensure that religious rituals are no longer a part of school-sponsored events. The school’s principal immediately responded, informing FFRF that the school has voted to have the valedictorian deliver a speech this year and hold a moment of silence asking those in attendance to take a moment to reflect on the past and future instead of prayer.

Minnesota

The city of New Hope is making changes to an annual prayer breakfast, addressing concerns brought to light by FFRF.

A New Hope resident reported that each year the city hosts a “Community Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.” The event was reportedly sponsored by the city of New Hope. The city sells tickets for this event and the event is reportedly advertised on the city’s official website. The city’s mayor also reportedly participated in the event in his official capacity. The complainant reported that New Hope also displays a religious message “America, God shed his grace on thee” above the main desk of its city hall building.

Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Mayor Kathy Hemken, highlighting the constitutional concern of the city’s hosting and coordination of a prayer breakfast.

The city confirmed that the religious sign has been removed and, with regard to the prayer breakfast, “any future prayer breakfasts will be conducted in compliance with the guidelines outlined in the Newman case.” Those guidelines restrict the use of city funds, employees, resources, and supplies in facilitating the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.

New Mexico

The Animas Public Schools high school basketball coach who was violating the Constitution resigned after FFRF alerted the school district.

A concerned community member reported to FFRF that the head coach of the Animas High School boys basketball team was promoting religion to his team. Before a playoff game on Feb. 27, the coach had his players wear T-shirts that said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The coach was also reportedly holding bible studies with players.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Loren Cushman.

Cushman acknowledged in his response that FFRF’s concerns were real and informed FFRF that the coach had resigned. And he added, “We will address each of the areas of concern during our staff in-service training at the start of the next school year.”

New York

The Clymer Central School District agreed to drop baccalaureate services and prayers at commencements after FFRF asked it to end the unconstitutional practices.

A concerned Clymer resident contacted FFRF to report that the district had been sponsoring an annual baccalaureate service for graduating seniors held at Clymer Central School. Last year, a district music teacher led the prelude and recessional at the service, which also had messages from three different pastors, scripture reading, a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and a distribution of bibles by the Gideons. Last year’s senior commencement ceremony also opened and closed with prayer.

FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Superintendent Ed Bailey.

“Clymer CSD will not be hosting baccalaureate service this year nor will we open or close our commencement ceremony with prayer,” Bailey responded in an email.

North Carolina

Alexander County Schools has ceased playing religious music over the school loudspeaker following a letter of complaint.

A parent of a student at Bethlehem Elementary School said that employees regularly play Christian radio stations over the loudspeaker before school begins each day.

Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district urging it to discontinue the practice of proselytizing to students. “Students arriving at school are a captive audience and cannot avoid listening to broadcasts played outside of the school and in the school’s office,” Line wrote to the district.

Superintendent Jennifer Hefner assured that only a classical music station will play over the loudspeaker from now on and that she will continue to monitor the situation going forward.

Ohio

A North Canton City Schools high school will move a religious club outside of school hours due to a complaint from FFRF.

A concerned student has reported that outside preachers regularly attend meetings and preach Christianity to students during the school day as part of Anchored, a student religious club at Hoover High School. The complainant reported that Anchored is the only student club that was meeting during the day and that no staff member is present during the meeting.

The school’s attorney responded to the letter of complaint, informing FFRF that “the principal will instruct the students that non-school persons may not regularly attend the club.” While the meetings do take place during the day, it is during non-instructional time during which no other groups have requested to meet. However, the club will be advised to move its meetings to before or after school.

Ohio

Federal Hocking Local Schools has taken action to ensure its web-filtering service is not unconstitutionally blocking websites of minority religious groups.

A district student reported that Federal Hocking Local Schools had been violating the rights of its students by blocking the websites of minority religious groups like the Satanic Temple, while allowing access to the websites of mainstream religious groups, including Christianity and Judaism. The district reportedly blocked these websites because they contain “mature” content, despite the fact that even a cursory review of these websites shows that the content of these websites is not “mature.” The content simply espoused views different than those contained on mainstream religious websites.

Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the district and the district’s attorney notified FFRF that the district has worked with its web-filtering service to enable access to the Satanic Temple’s website.

Oklahoma

The Lemonade House Grille has discontinued a social media promotion for a free appetizer for presenting a church bulletin.

Offering a church bulletin discount violates the federal Civil Rights Act as well as Oklahoma civil rights law, Associate Counsel Liz Cavell pointed out to the restaurant owner.

The church bulletin promotion has been removed from the restaurant’s Facebook page and all other advertised promotions are secular and available to all customers.

Tennessee

The Blount County Public Library has removed religious iconography from its website.

The complainant reported that the library had three Latin crosses on its website and on a computer inside of the library used to search its catalog. Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the library’s director about the violation.

Library Director K.C. Williams responded to FFRF’s complaint. “Once I became aware of the situation, immediate action was taken to rectify it,” Williams wrote. “It is my intent to ensure that there are no further lapses.”

Texas

Forney Independent School District is taking several positive steps to remedy its unconstitutional partnership with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

A community member reported that the district partnered with FCA, a private religious organization, to host a jointly-sponsored athletic event called the “FCA Unity Bowl.”

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the district and the district’s attorney reported that the district will take numerous steps to ensure there is no longer the appearance of district promotion of the FCA.

Virginia

Multiple religious displays were removed from the inmate law library at Coffeewood Correctional Facility in Mitchells due to a complaint from FFRF.

Multiple concerned inmates told FFRF that the facility had erected a large Christian-themed display in the law library, including a prominent Ten Commandments display and a large poster detailing the biblical account of the history of ancient Israel. Additionally, this display apparently sat adjacent to a display case containing various scripture quotes and a sign that read, “Jesus in me loves you.”

Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to Warden Ivan Gilmore, urging that the displays be taken down and that common areas in the prison not be used to endorse religion. The complainants have confirmed that the display was removed following the receipt of FFRF’s letter.

Wisconsin

Four crosses in Marshall have been removed from state property after FFRF drew attention to the unconstitutionality of such a display.

A Marshall resident reported that there was a roadside memorial consisting of four illuminated Latin crosses on I-94. These crosses had reportedly been up for more than a year, while other non-religious memorials had been removed in a much shorter time frame.

Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, urging it to remove these crosses as the display constituted an unconstitutional endorsement of religion as well as a violation of DOT policy regarding roadside memorials.

DOT Chief Operations Engineer John Steiner assured FFRF in a response letter that the cross display has been removed and returned to its owners.

Wisconsin

Dodgeland School District has revamped its field trip form and policies after FFRF alerted officials to religious language.

A concerned community member contacted FFRF to report that students and parents were asked to sign a religious statement in a list of rules related to Dodgeland Middle School’s field trip to Washington, D.C., in mid-April. The only rule written in bold and italicized text stated, “REMEMBER AT ALL TIMES, AND IN ALL PLACES THAT YOU ARE REPRESENTING OUR GOD AND SAVIOR . . .” The district reportedly required students and parents to sign this document.

FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to district Superintendent Annette Thompson.

The Dodgeland School District has acknowledged its lapse and pledged to FFRF that a principal or an associate principal will review such documents from now on. It has also promised to draw up a new form that will not have any religious references.