Donate now to FFRF through CFC, AmazonSmile

There are a few ways you can donate to FFRF, including directly through our website, through the Combined Federal Campaign or AmazonSmile.

If you are a federal employee, you may make donations to FFRF though the CFC (Combined Federal Campaign) from Sept. 1 until Jan. 15, 2020. If you wish to help FFRF through this campaign, the CFC code to designate your contribution to FFRF is 32519.

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

From the CFC website: “The CFC is the official workplace giving campaign of the federal government. The mission of the CFC is to promote and support philanthropy through a program that is employee focused, cost-efficient and effective in providing federal employees the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all. The CFC is the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign.”

Another way to donate automatically is through AmazonSmile. It’s a simple way for you to support FFRF (or other charitable organizations) 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 the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. Hopefully, that’s FFRF!

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 program are remitted to the AmazonSmile Foundation. In turn, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates those amounts to the charitable organizations selected by their customers. Amazon pays all expenses of the AmazonSmile Foundation; they are not deducted from the donation amounts.

Heads Up poetry column: Fleas

Fleas

I form the light, and create darkness:
I make peace, and create evil:

I the Lord do all these things.

— Isaiah 45:7

I think that I shall never see

a poem as ugly as a flea,

a flea whose hungry mouth is pressed

against a buttock or a breast,

a flea that spreads disease all day

and lifts its little claws to prey:

poems are made by you and me,

but only God can make a flea.

I think that no one ever made

a poem as powerful as AIDS,

or plagues that may in summer kill

half the bishops in Brazil

and share the good Lord’s Final Answer

with clots and cholera and cancer —

for God concocted pox to mock us,

staph and syph and streptococcus:

poems are made by bards or hacks,

but only God makes cardiacs.

I think that I shall never smell

a poem as pungent as a hell,

where grinning devils turn the screws

on saintly Sikhs and upright Jews,

giving them the holy scorcher,

timeless, transcendental torture:

poems can make you want to yell,

but only God can give you hell.

From Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems:

A Satirical Look At The Bible

In the News (September 2019)

‘The Family’ exposes D.C. Christian organization

The Family

A five-part “docuseries” on Netflix takes a close look at “The Family,” the secretive Christian organization that has influence throughout Washington, D.C.

It’s based on the book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, by investigative reporter Jeff Sharlet published more than a decade ago. The Family believes that the separation of church and state is unnecessary. The Family grooms and supports leaders, teaching them that the bible is a story about power, not mercy, and that leaders are chosen by God, not elected.

Members of The Family have notably shunned publicity, preferring backroom deals and secrecy. Their mansion on C Street is the residency of a number of conservative members of Congress, and the only time they really come out in the open was the National Prayer Breakfast.

The series became available on Aug. 9 on Netflix. Listen to Sharlet discussing his book and the Netflix series on FFRF’s Freethought Radio Aug. 8.

Trump’s trade war could turn biblical

The price of bibles could soar because of the trade war President Donald Trump has waged against China.

Trump has vowed to place tariffs on all of America’s imports from China, and book publishers are warning that those tariffs will cause the price of printing the bible to jump and possibly cause shortages.

Most publishers of the bible in the United States print them in China because of the high cost and complexity involved in printing a text with roughly 800,000 words. HarperCollins Christian Publishing says about three-quarters of its bible manufacturing expenses are in China.

Hundreds plan to sue Boy Scouts for sex abuse

Nearly 700 men are coming forward with accusations that they were sexually abused during their time in the Boy Scouts. They plan to sue Boy Scouts of America, a century-old organization that has prohibited atheists from joining. The men are demanding that the Boy Scouts be held accountable for hiding abusers from the criminal justice system and enabling them to keep preying on young men.

The Boy Scouts are facing financial trouble and may file for bankruptcy protection, which would freeze the ability of victims to file claims.

“This organization is so full of child molesters that if you weren’t sexually molested in scouting, you were just lucky,” said Tim Kosnoff, the attorney who gathered the claims. “The Boy Scouts should not exist anymore. . . . You couldn’t design a better place for pedophiles. You’re putting men you know virtually nothing about in close proximity with young boys away from their parents in the woods.”

Foster agency won’t accept Jews or LGBTQ

A federally funded Christian foster agency in South Carolina has decided to open its doors to prospective foster parents and employees who aren’t evangelical Protestants, but the organization’s ban on working with people who are LGBTQ, progressive Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or from other faiths remains intact.

Greenville’s Miracle Hill Ministries, the state’s largest foster care organization for children who don’t have significant special needs, previously had strict rules about only hiring and working with foster parents and volunteers who subscribe to a set of conservative evangelical principles.

Jews, atheists are more knowledgeable on religion

Jews and atheists know more than every kind of Christian about what different religions teach, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows.

The survey, which quizzed more than 11,000 U.S. adults, showed that most Americans are familiar with the basics of Christianity and the bible, but far fewer knew the answers to questions about Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. Also, most Americans do not know what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials.

Transubstantiation not believed by most Catholics

The Catholic idea of transubstantiation, that the bread and wine used for communion become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, is only believed by less than one-third of the religion’s adherents.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 69 percent of self-described Catholics say they believe the bread and wine used in communion are merely symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Just 31 percent say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.”

Wisconsin Dems want sex abuse loophole closed

Three lawmakers in Wisconsin want to close a loophole in state law that precludes clergy from reporting sexual abuse and they are also calling for changes to the state’s statute of limitations for civil cases involving childhood sexual assault.

State Rep. Chris Taylor, state Sen. Lena Taylor and state Rep. Melissa Sargent, all Democrats, filed the two bills on Aug. 6.

The first bill, known as the Child Victims Act, has been filed before and has failed to pass the legislature at least four times. The second bill, known as the Clergy Mandatory Reporter Act, is being filed for the first time.

Saudi Arabia loosens restrictions on women

Saudi Arabia published new laws that loosen restrictions on women by allowing all citizens, not just men, to apply for a passport and travel freely, ending a long-standing guardianship policy that had controlled women’s freedom of movement.

The new laws were to go into effect by the end of August.

The kingdom’s legal system has long been criticized because it treats adult women as minors, requiring they have a man’s consent to obtain a passport or travel abroad. Often a woman’s male guardian is her father or husband, and in some cases a woman’s son.

Women are now also allowed to be legal guardians of their children, a right previously held only by men.

N.C. bans state funding for conversion therapy

North Carolina became the first Southern state to ban public funding of conversion therapy for minors, the practice often used by religious groups to “cure” individuals of their homosexual  orientations and transgender identities.

On Aug. 2, Gov. Roy Cooper instructed the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to make sure state-licensed health care providers and organizations that use such techniques are not paid by government agencies.

Eighteen states plus the District of Columbia have laws that ban conversion therapy of minors by licensed health care providers, but Southern states have been unable to muster the votes to pass legislation to ban the practice, even as polls show growing support for such legislation.

Atheism, nonreligion in England growing quickly

In England, the rise of atheism and nonreligion among the younger generations is rising quickly. Just 1 percent of those under age 24 identify with the Church of England, which has a formal constitutional role in the country. More than half of British people now say that they have no religion, and about 40 percent are Christian, while 9 percent are Muslim.

There is a steady rise in the number of “Nones,” people who do not identify with any religion.  The Pew Global Forum suggests there will be 1.3 billion Nones worldwide by 2060.

In the past 10 years, the number proclaiming no faith has risen from 43 percent to 52 percent. And in a strong shift toward atheism, 25 percent of the British now state “I do not believe in God,” compared with 10 percent 20 years ago.

40% of Americans still believe in creationism

Forty percent of adults in the United States believe in a strictly creationist view of human origins, claiming that God created the world in its present form within roughly the past 10,000 years. However, the 22 percent of Americans who do not believe God had any role in human evolution is a record high. This percentage coincides with an increasing number of Americans saying they have no religious identification.

Overheard (September 2019)

Modern human rights are grounded on the dignity inherent in every human being. They are not God-given rights, or Trump-given rights, and they apply to people of all faiths and to those who have none.

Columnist Richard Cohen, “Trump’s ominous attempt to redefine human rights.”

The New York Times, 7-13-19


I just want to say to my atheist friends, some of my best friends are atheists. And some of them are also some of the best people I know. And it is ridiculous that people would think you are somehow less moral or less worthy of the full protection and enjoyment of all of our virtues as a society because of your religious beliefs.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, in an interview.

Reddit.com, 7-8-19


People don’t know about all the hard-won battles anymore: gay folks fighting for their rights, the separation of church and state. . . .  for a good long time we had a national conversation about things that now we’re having to reiterate.

Whoopi Goldberg, in a profile Q&A.

The New York Times Magazine, 7-14-19


What are 26 bishops doing in our legislature, making us the only democracy with a theocratic element? True, the men in frocks don’t look out of place in the whole creaking edifice of the House of Lords. But the high number of religious members of both houses is wildly out of kilter with the wider population.

Polly Toynbee, in her column, “Faith in religion is dwindling, but when will British politics reflect that?”

The Guardian, 7-11-19


All four of these men have stood strong in defense of religious liberty, despite unimaginable pressure, and the American people stand with them. The United States calls upon the governments of Eritrea, Mauritania, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to respect the freedom of conscience and let these men go.

Vice President Mike Pence, in asking to release blogger Raif Badawi, who is serving a 10-year/1,000-lash sentence for insulting Islam, and three others.

Reuters, 7-18-19


After all, this “character counts” and “personal integrity” and “political leadership” was central to what a lot of evangelicals argued when Bill Clinton was president. And now that it’s Donald Trump, they’ve decided to push that aside, which means that morality for them was a means to an end, not an end. It was something to be used as a political weapon. I think a lot of these white evangelical leaders are doing more to hurt Christianity than the so-called New Atheists ever could.

Peter Wehner, veteran of three Republican administrations, speaking on Michael Smerconish’s show on CNN.

CNN, 7-20-19


I have many fellow travelers, very few publicly. I think there’s still fear of this conventional wisdom that being an atheist or agnostic or a nonbeliever is somehow the worst possible thing in politics. My experience has been that that’s not the case, but how you do it matters.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, on being the only “out” nonreligious member of Congress.

The Guardian, 8-3-19

Congressional Freethought Caucus reception, hosted by FFRF

Rafida Bonya Ahmed: Rationality needed now more than ever

Rafida Bonya Ahmed and her husband, Avijit Roy. In 2015, they were brutally attacked by Islamist extremists. Roy died from the injuries and Bonya was critically wounded.
Rafida Bonya Ahmed, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman and FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor get together for a photo during the July 18 Congressional Freethought Caucus reception.
Photo by Andrew L. Seidel
Rafida Bonya Ahmed, left, visited with Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, second from left, along with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor and FFRF Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann in Washington, D.C., recently.

The following keynote speech was given at the North American Paleontology convention at the University of California-Riverside in June in front of paleontologists from 32 countries. In 2016, Rafida Bonya Ahmed was awarded FFRF’s Forward Award, which recognizes individuals who have moved society forward.

By Rafida Bonya Ahmed

I am honored to be here today. I am not an academic or a paleontologist — not even an amateur one. But I know a thing or two about writing about science and the price you might pay for defending rational and scientific thinking. I thought it would be a good idea for me to share that with you, especially now, when rational thinking is under attack all around the globe.

My late husband Avijit Roy and I are —  I guess were — writers devoted to scientific thinking, writing blogs and books after we came home from our day jobs in IT. Early on, when we met in 2002 through the blog that he founded for Bengali-speaking freethinkers, we decided to write in our first language, Bengali,  because there was a lack of good books on emerging science and philosophy in our native tongue, though there was a big demand for it among the young population.

We were both born in Bangladesh, though we spent most of our adult lives here in the United States. Writing was Avijit’s passion. I don’t know how, but he managed to write eight books and edited two others on such diverse subjects as how our universe works, how life began, homosexuality, the virus of faith or the philosophy of nonbelief.

I am lazy — I only managed to write one book on the evolution of life.

In 2015, we decided to visit our home country for a book-signing trip. Two of Avijit’s books were due to be published during the month-long book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

And then it happened, on the 10th day of our visit. It was the evening of Feb. 26, 2015. In front of hundreds and hundreds of people, we were attacked by machete-wielding Islamic terrorists as we were leaving the book fair. We were targeted by one of the local Islamic militant groups, which later merged with al Qaida of the Indian Subcontinent.

Avijit bled to death on the street and I barely survived. I had four 6- to 7-inch machete gashes on my head, a sliced-off thumb and numerous cuts to the nerves and arteries on my hands.

I will not go into any more detail of that gruesome night. If you are morbidly curious, you can find the pictures of the attack scene on the internet, as a young photographer took a few pictures before he came forward to take us to the hospital when nobody else offered.

I don’t have any memory of the attack itself. I remember the moment right before the attack and I have a few scattered memories of when I was taken to the hospital. It must be an evolutionary mechanism which blocks this kind of traumatic experience from being registered in our long-term memory. My PTSD-specialist psychiatrist and I “prayed” together so that the memories of that night never come back.

Why we were targeted

Our “sin” was that Avijit and I wrote about science, philosophy and rational thinking. We criticized religion and religious fundamentalism. The militants later said in a press release that we deserved to be killed because of two of the books Avijit wrote — one on the scientific and social basis of homosexuality and the other one titled The Virus of Faith.

After the attack on us, the militants vowed to kill one atheist blogger a month and the impunity was so high that they continued to do so for next few months. They killed four other bloggers and attacked both of Avijit’s publishers in their offices. One died and the other one barely survived.

Our so-called “secular” government stayed quiet because it did not want to upset the influential fundamentalist groups. The government was finally forced to act after the militants attacked a bakery in Dhaka, killing 20 foreigners and locals in a horrific night-long raid. The attackers sent gruesome pictures to ISIS as they slaughtered those innocent people.

This was not the Bangladesh we grew up in. But there is no denying that we have seen a dangerous shift toward religious fundamentalism or right-wing nationalism in many parts of the world.

Avijit’s books are not sold in Bangladesh anymore and I have been told that the shopkeepers hide my book in the back of the store. You have to secretly ask them for it because they are afraid of the threats from the religious fundamentalists — and the government, too. They do not teach evolution in the Bangladeshi schools anymore, either.

You might think we are much better than that. But, think again. Are we really?

We might not get killed here in the United States for being atheist science writers, but what about being a victim of mindless gun violence? What about getting killed by the growing white nationalists in a Charlottesville-like protest?

What about our government’s denial of the dangerous reality of global climate change and the predicament of our planet? Isn’t that a death by thousand cuts for future generations?

What about scrapping regulations that would have cracked down on coal-burning power plants, or stopping fetal tissue research that could help millions of people, including those afflicted with HIV, human development disorders or various cancers? I would be remiss to not mention the recent attacks on women’s right to choose in many parts of this country, as well.

This administration has radically reduced the use of science in policymaking. It has deliberately weakened enforcement of science-based public health and environmental laws. And the list goes on. We are seeing the same trend in many other countries.

I know it is easy to list problems without talking about the solution. I have gone through enough in life to know there are things beyond our control. But, I still believe we can do many other things. They might be small, but they have the potential to make a profound impact on our society and environment.

The new storytellers

I have always viewed you guys, the paleontologists, as storytellers. You are those enchanting storytellers who make their readers travel through the deep history of our planet where none of us have ever been.

I know the word “storyteller” rings an alarm in your scientist ears. Storytellers are not necessarily scientific! And rightfully so. But bear with me.

What if we have storytellers who would rewrite the creation stories of our species with this new scientific knowledge we have gathered in the last few centuries? What if our stories could ignite the spark of critical thinking in kids from a very young age? Where did we come from? How did we get here? Did our species have any other siblings or cousins? We were not the only humans who roamed around this world. That plant and fungal kingdom are the basis of life on earth. Biodiversity is not just a thing to enjoy in a botanical garden, but an absolute necessity for our existence. What if we could teach our children early on that we are all dependent on each other in this biosphere, that we need to preserve our environment to preserve our own existence? That extinction is an inevitable part of life. Ninety-nine percent of all species have gone extinct. Our species is one of the newest actors on this planetary stage.

What if these new stories could teach our next generations the desperately needed humility that we have lost along the way of our unbelievable evolutionary success? Our anthropocentric worldview is nothing but a representation of our arrogance and ignorance. Our existence in this universe is small and fleeting, but at the same time it is deeply consequential.

The dinosaurs had no way of predicting their extinction, but we do, and that’s why we have a duty to protect our planet.

What if these stories could encourage people to question everything? If there is anything fixed in this world, it is that our universe, our planet, every life form, is continuously changing. Our culture, language, society, consciousness and values all change with time and space. So, we know when anyone tries to impose unchangeable rules and morals which have to be accepted without any question, they contradict the basic nature of our universe, our existence.

The reason I am obsessed with the rational and scientific storytelling is very personal. Storytelling is deeply embedded in the culture of our species. I know it works because it worked for me. One such storyteller influenced me profoundly when I was a teenager.

By age 13, I had read the children’s versions of the scriptures of the main organized religions, along with many other books. Yeah, you can tell that I had nothing better to do. And, I declared to my parents: “None of these stories is cutting it for me. All of them sound like fairytales.”

My liberal Muslim parents couldn’t care less. They said, “OK, if that’s what you want to believe.” I don’t know if this is possible in today’s Bangladesh anymore.

Then I started searching for an answer that would make sense and my uncle came to the rescue. He bought me this book called A Story Without an End, written by Debiprasad Chattapadhyay, one of the well-known Bengali rational thinkers.

And this is where I got introduced to Darwin, evolution and paleontology. The book was about the story of the evolution of our planet and life on it. It was written before the days of genetics and genomics, so it was mainly based on what we knew from geology, anthropology and, of course, paleontology.

This book shaped me in more ways than you can imagine. It told me that there were scientific and rational explanations to the questions I had about our history, our origin. It showed me our place in the universe. It made me aware of our evolutionary identity and the relationship between the past and the living life forms and it also made me understand the magnitude of changes happening through our history. Above all, it encouraged me to question, to think and to be curious.

The seed of scientific and rational thinking that this book planted in me in my early years not only helped form my worldview, it helped me immensely during the darkest moments of my life. They say rational thinking goes out of the window when you are in a foxhole. But it worked exactly the opposite way for me.

Randomness of existence

I was brought in from Dhaka to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for further surgeries and treatment on the fourth day after the attack in 2015, leaving Avijit’s body for medical research in Bangladesh. 

Rather than wasting my energy on thinking, “Why have I been punished this way?,” I thought about the randomness of our existence and the probability of this happening to me. We all like to create this little Garden of Eden around us and think nothing will happen to us and our loved ones, while many around us are constantly getting hurt or dying from war, extreme poverty, natural disaster, accidents, religious execution or sexual violence — you name it.

Lying in the hospital bed, I thought, “If it happens to millions of people all over the world, all through our history, it can happen to me as well, right?”

I remember thinking that although the universe is indifferent to my random existence and feelings, I do have a choice! I could be depressed and stay traumatized for the rest of my life or I could try to live again in a way that felt meaningful to me while I am here raising my footprint on our little planet. This is what got me going and saved me from sinking into PTSD.

After I was done with my three-month-long initial treatment, I moved to Atlanta, where I had lived with Avijit for 16 years. I quit my job as an IT executive in the financial industry. I could no longer work just for a paycheck. I started writing again and lobbying against the persecution of freethinkers, writers, bloggers, publishers and intellectuals in Bangladesh. I am lucky to have help from people from all around the world, including in Bangladesh.

I recently created a charity called “Think,” with my scientist, educator and BBC documentary filmmaker friends. We are creating high-quality videos on science, history, philosophy and art in different languages — Bengali, Hindi, Arabic and English.

As you can expect, there is so much good content created in English in this new social media and YouTube era, but there is almost nothing in many other languages. We want to share the global knowledge and the scientific progress while celebrating the local history and knowledge base, treasures in critical thinking, history, art, philosophy. We are filming videos in each language separately — no more captions or dubbing from English! We are hoping to go live with our YouTube channels in October.

I would really like to thank the organizers of this convention for going beyond your academic research topics and focusing also on scientific thinking in broader society and public policy-making. We need this more than ever as we fight global climate change and the constant attacks on the rationally-informed view of evolution and the consequences of Earth’s history, locally and globally. Paleontologists have played a very important role in our scientific revolution over centuries and I am confident that you will continue stepping up to the challenge at this critical moment of our planetary history.

FFRF opposes rule to legalize discrimination

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has submitted a formal comment condemning a proposed Department of Labor rule that would allow federal contractors to discriminate against employees based on “sincerely held religious tenets” of the corporation or business.

In an alarming new twist, the rule would protect a federal contractor engaging in discrimination based on conduct that the employer says violates their religion. Worse still, for-profit companies would be given a cover for labor discrimination so long as they invoke a religious purpose for such actions.

This proposed regulation would most obviously target LGBTQ individuals. Anti-gay employers have a long history of disingenuously arguing that they are not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, but rather on “lifestyle” choices or “conduct.”

But this rule could also be used to deny employment to atheists, members of a minority religion, single mothers or anyone else who isn’t practicing the “right” religion in the “proper” way, in the eyes of an employer receiving federal funds. In other words, Christian employers could discriminate against non-Christians, including atheists, or even against anyone they deem to be a “bad Christian.”

Giving federal contractors a religious license to discriminate in employment places the federal government’s stamp of approval on all manner of bigotry. The Trump Administration’s proposed rule shamefully would let our taxpayer dollars aid discrimination by federal contractors. This harmful proposal would roll back decades of progress on labor law and the protection of the rights of LGBTQ and other vulnerable individuals.

FFRF is urging the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which regulates anti-discrimination requirements, to reject the proposal.

“The Labor Department instead should adopt rules that will protect employees who have a history of suffering discrimination, rather than legalizing invidious discrimination,” says Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members nationwide, including members in all 50 states. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.


Please take action against this rule!

Please join FFRF in denouncing this proposed rule. Go to ffrf.us/labor_rule. Click on the blue button in the upper right corner that reads “Comment Now!” and fill it out with the following wording (or adapt it as you see fit):

I strongly oppose the proposed changes to OFCCP policy that would allow federal contractors to discriminate against employees based on religious affiliation and also based on whether the employee’s conduct is consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs. This is unconscionable taxpayer-funded discrimination that will put civil rights for vulnerable populations at risk. The Labor Department instead should adopt rules that will protect employees who have a history of suffering discrimination, rather than legalizing such discrimination.

Activist award: Student calls out state-church violations

This scholarship was generously established by an anonymous FFRF member.

By Janet Roberts

I am a recent graduate of Hamilton High School, which is just southwest of Grand Rapids, Mich. Throughout my high school career, I struggled to fit in with the conservative Christian culture. Religion was found in my classroom, cafeteria and integrated in the school board.

During my four years, I was a member of my school’s Women’s Chorale and Honors Choir. My classmates and I were required to attend multiple Christian Reformed Church services and perform various hymns. At the service, we sat as a captive audience and listened to the sermon. During the service, I felt uncomfortable as the beliefs expressed were very different from my own. On one occasion, the pastor was preaching derogatory messages regarding people in the LGBT community. I spoke with my teacher and was told if I was uncomfortable, I could leave and rejoin the choir when it performed the next song. Although I have strong beliefs, I did not want to be singled out among my peers or judged by my decision to leave. It was a lose-lose situation for me.

My parents and I wrote a letter to the superintendent in May 2016. He suggested we work through the high school principal first. We did that. The principal immediately forwarded the email to the teacher. She reiterated that the solution was to have me sit out the sermon or do an alternative community singing event on my own. After meeting with the principal again, we were clear that this was not an acceptable solution for us. The proposed solution was only directed toward me and never formalized as a school policy.

My parents met with the superintendent after this and he seemed to agree that the situation was unacceptable. However, nothing was ever done to address the issue.

It was at this point that I decided to contact FFRF.

After discussing the choir situation, I proceeded to mention other potential church/state violations. I had noticed that youth group leaders and members of the church seemed to roam freely around my school. In one instance, a youth group leader sat next to me at lunch and initiated conversation. I couldn’t help but wonder why this strange adult was hanging out at my lunch table. After some thought, I also recalled that the school board routinely prays before meetings. FFRF immediately notified the school of its church/state violations in an official letter and they are currently working toward a solution. (Editor’s note: This case has been resolved favorably.)

Although I often face backlash for my actions, speaking out about my school is something that I am proud of. I’m hopeful that permanent changes will be made and future students will be free from church/state entanglements.


‘Refused to stay quiet or back down’

Colin E. McNamara, FFRF’s Robert G. Ingersoll legal fellow, worked on this case with Janet (not her real name). Here’s what he had to say about her:

“Janet was one of the most intelligent, determined and downright tough young activists whom I had the pleasure of working with in my time at FFRF. Janet refused to stay quiet or back down — even when she faced backlash from staff, students and her community. Since she wrote this piece, I have communicated extensively with counsel for the school district to ameliorate these issues. In response, the administration has taken extensive steps to ensure that this pattern of religious entanglement does not recur — and it’s all thanks to Janet and her courage. She did the right thing, and because of her tireless work documenting and reporting the myriad constitutional violations at her school, future generations of students won’t have to endure the creeping coercive pressure of religious indoctrination that she did.

“I’m so very proud of her, and I see great things in her future. She tells me that she wants to go to law school after undergrad and that she’s acquired an interest in state-church separation law, so I suspect we’ve not heard the last from this exceptional young woman.”

FFRF’s Reagan TV ad to air during ‘The Daily Show’

Ron Reagan

FFRF’s TV ad featuring an endorsement by Ron Reagan will appear on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah from Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, and again the following week, Sept. 16 through 19. “The Daily Show” airs at 11 p.m. Eastern.

The 30-second spot originally debuted on “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” back in May 2014, airing once per show. This is the first time the ad has run multiple times on “The Daily Show” or since Noah Trevor became the host.

FFRF tried to get the same ad to run during the Democratic debates, but was rejected by ABC, which is hosting the two-day debates on Sept. 12 and 13.

The ad has also been refused by national CBS, NBC and Discovery. FFRF then sought to run a previous commercial during the ABC-hosted debates, a 30-second spot featuring footage of candidate John F. Kennedy giving his famous speech to Houston ministers in 1960, in which he states, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” This ad had run in the past on some national CBS programs.

“The public has no idea how often atheists and freethinkers and our views are censored in our nation,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. She noted that FFRF advertising has been routinely censored — not only by network TV, but by other media, recently including the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. FFRF sought for three decades to place billboards, before finally persuading a company to accept its advertising in 2006. “Yet many of our messages are still refused,” Gaylor added.

The endorsement ad by Reagan plugs FFRF:

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

Reagan is an FFRF honorary director who received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from FFRF in 2004 and gave an acceptance speech at the 2009 national convention in Seattle.

Trump social media case implicates state rep

A recent judgment regarding President Trump’s use of social media has increased legal liability for a Florida state rep, who’s utilizing her social media account to promote Christianity, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is advising.

In July, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump that the president’s Twitter feed is a government-run forum and that denying citizens equal access to read and post comments on his feed violated their First Amendment rights.

In light of this decision, FFRF has written to Florida state Rep. Kimberly Daniels, after a concerned constituent reported that he and several other residents were blocked from commenting on, or otherwise interacting with, the official “State Representative Kimberly Daniels” Facebook page. These bans are not arbitrary but rather the result of users expressing viewpoints critical of Daniels’ actions as a state legislator. The blocked constituents are unable to interact with others on the official page and cannot use standard Facebook features available to all other users, particularly the “following,” “liking,” and commenting functions.

While Daniels has reportedly taken the position that this Facebook page is a personal social media account, recent federal court opinions make it clear that the page is operating as a government account.

Concerned Floridians have further reported to FFRF that the account continually and pervasively promotes Christianity. Several other posts display videos of the representative proselytizing on a radio show.