John Irving joins FFRF convention

John Irving

Acclaimed author and Oscar-winner John Irving has agreed to speak at FFRF’s 43rd annual convention in San Antonio the weekend of Nov. 13–15.

He will receive FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, for statements such as this remark in a New York Times op-ed in June 2019: “Freedom of religion in the United States also means freedom from religion.”

He will be part of a speaker lineup that includes fellow authors Margaret Atwood and Gloria Steinem, among many others. (For more on the speakers, turn to page 2. For details about convention registration, see the back page.)

Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times — winning it in 1980 for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story “Interior Space.” In 2000, Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Cider House Rules.” In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel, In One Person.

In 2018, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize honored Irving with the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.

Irving achieved critical and popular acclaim after the international success of Garp in 1978. Many of Irving’s novels, including The Cider House Rules (1985), A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989), and A Widow for One Year (1998), have been bestsellers.

Ben Hart dishes about his new plate

FFRF Member Ben Hart shows off his new Kentucky license plate.

After more than three years of fighting a lawsuit, FFRF Member Ben Hart finally got his “IM GOD” license plate in Kentucky.

In 2016, he was denied those plates by the Kentucky Department of Motor Vehicles because the phrase was deemed “obscene or vulgar.” So, Hart, backed by FFRF and the ACLU of Kentucky, filed a lawsuit. A federal court ruled in November that Hart could apply for the personalized plates.

He received his new Kentucky plates on Jan. 22.

“They made me go to the courthouse to pick it up,” Hart said recently on  FFRF’s “Freethought Radio” program.

Hart, while previously living in Ohio, had “IM GOD” plates on his vehicle and said there was no issue getting them there, unlike in Kentucky.

“I did it originally just as a lark,” he said on the radio show. “I got it from Ohio, no problem at all. I had it for about 12 years. . . . In Ohio, I got my plates that said ‘IM GOD,’ and a year or two later, the state came out with the slogan “One Nation Under God” on the plates. I thought, I gotta have that one!”

So, on his Ohio plates, the “IM GOD” was printed just above “One Nation Under God.” Hart enjoyed the irony so much, he made sure that there was a similar tweak to religion on his Kentucky plates, asking for one of the state’s specialty plates.

“I saw that it didn’t have ‘In God We Trust’ on it, so I had them make it over again.”

The court ruled on Feb. 10 that the state must pay more than $150,000 in lawyer’s fees to FFRF and ACLU-Kentucky.

Hart will be honored in November at FFRF’s convention in San Antonio as one of its Freethinkers of the Year.

“I’m thankful to finally have the same opportunity to select a personal message for my license plate just as any other driver,” Hart said after the lawsuit was ruled in his favor.

When asked on the radio show about repercussions of having that plate, Hart said it’s been pretty civil.

“I had very few negative reactions, mostly no reactions,” he replied.
“After we retired, we happened to be in Texas and some lady came up to me and said, ‘Well, you’re not God.’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ve got a $100 bill in my pocket if you can prove that I’m not.’ She stammers and says, ‘Well, I can’t prove it, but you’re not God.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll keep my $100 then.’”

Hart said he has been interviewed for TV, radio and newspapers, including by media outlets as far-flung as Australia and Thailand.

“I have the most famous license plate in the world,” he quipped.


Strategic Response Team kicks into high gear

By Andrew L. Seidel


Photo by Chris Line
FFRF’s Strategic Response Team was gifted jackets by generous member Adam R. Rose. Showing off the jackets are, from left, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Ryan Jayne, Amit Pal, Dan Barker, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey and Andrew L. Seidel. Missing: Mark Dann.

FRF’s Strategic Response Team (SRT) celebrated its second year of fighting theocracy and Christian Nationalism. SRT is a nimble squad that encapsulates FFRF’s two main purposes: education and state-church separation. We work to educate the public and keep state and church separate.

After a successful first year, FFRF expanded the team in its second year. Ryan Jayne is now a full-time SRT attorney and we hired a full-time director of governmental affairs, Mark Dann. Ryan, Mark and I make up the core of the team. Also attached to SRT are FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, Director of Communications Amit Pal, Editorial Assistant Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey and the FFRF legal team. 

Our usual work falls into four basic categories:

1. Shaping public opinion with

articles and editorials.

2. Working to stop imminent violations with legal letters.

3. Lobbying on state legislation.

4. Lobbying the federal government.

Shaping opinion

Shaping public opinion often involves wading into the news cycle to drive the public debate for FFRF. The best example of this was our complaint against the judge in the Amber Guyger murder trial. Judge Tammy Kemp gave the now-guilty murderer a bible and told her to come to Jesus.

The Guyger bible complaint was widely covered, including by CNN, NPR, The New York Times and Washington Post. Fox News ran five stories on it. President Trump tweeted about it. We shaped the public debate and educated about state-church separation.

We seize teachable moments wherever we can, from a sheriff’s deputy who called for the government to kill LGBTQ Americans (he was fired), to a district attorney who consulted the bible before seeking the death penalty, to pushing back against Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to slamming governors in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Nebraska for abusing a public office to promote their personal religion.

Shaping public opinion also involves getting FFRF’s message out to our members and the public. We did this in 2019 with 46 FFRF statements, 51 press releases, and 45 articles, op-eds, blogs and letters to the editor. I wrote a number of op-eds for Rewire News, Slate, and other outlets, including a three-part series on the history, legality and Christian nationalism of the phrase “In God We Trust.”

SRT tackled a variety of issues including Trump tweeting about bible classes, the terror attacks in New Zealand, our support for the Equality Act and proposed legislation.

Stopping violations

SRT worked with the legal team to address 54 complaints requiring immediate action — what we call rapid response. For instance, we heard that the town of Charleston, Ill., was organizing trips to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. Ryan Jayne wrote to the town the same day and the town cancelled the trips. Then, SRT sent a letter to every school district within driving distance of the ark park — spanning five states — explaining why it’s unconstitutional for public schools to organize similar trips.

Fighting Trump, nominees

SRT has opposed judicial nominees who are particularly bad on state-church issues. We also opposed the confirmation of Barr. Media outlets were surprised by Barr’s October speech at Notre Dame — “Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives, but where is the progress? No secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.” But SRT warned about Barr’s bigotry when he was first nominated. SRT unearthed speeches Barr gave in 1992 saying nearly identical things. We spearheaded an effort to educate senators and drafted the letter that other secular groups signed, including the Secular Coalition, American Atheists and the Center for Inquiry.

Pompeo has a similarly dreadful Christian Nationalist past and has used the Department of State and its website to promote his Christian Nationalist vision of leadership. SRT sent the State Department a letter within an hour of this violation and the offending content was down a few hours later. 

State-level lobbying

In 2019, SRT reviewed 2,200 bills. Ryan tracked 500 of those bills, two-thirds of which we opposed. Only 39 of those bad bills became law. Much of the legislation we opposed did not pass, including some of the worst. We stopped:

• Private school voucher-type schemes in eight different states.

• A bill to make the bible the official state book of Mississippi.

• A Florida bill that would have required public high schools to offer for-credit bible studies, which was just reintroduced as H.B. 341 and S.B. 746 (Take action here:

We tracked and opposed bills pushed by “Project Blitz,” a scheme aimed at codifying Christian Nationalism that features a wide variety of bad bills, including displaying “In God We Trust” in public schools.

What success we have is thanks to you, our members. Last year, 14,000 different FFRF members contacted their legislators more than 180,000 times on the 77 action alerts we sent out. The total number is actually much higher because this includes neither state nor local legislator connections nor in-person contacts.

Government affairs

Mark Dann kicked FFRF’s government relations program into high gear after being hired in May 2019 by bringing FFRF members and messages to Congress. Mark had more than 80 meetings with congressional offices and hosted a successful briefing on the Hill, featuring Bonya Ahmed and the Congressional Freethought Caucus, which supports the separation of church and state, reason and science in policy making and the equal treatment of freethinkers.

SRT helped build up the caucus  and brought three of its members on FFRF’s television show, “Freethought Matters.” (All those episodes are available on FFRF’s YouTube channel.) Having U.S. representatives appear on FFRF media was unthinkable even a few years ago.

We’ve also been racking up legislative victories. One of our key legislative objectives is to make sure all Americans have access to a secular recovery option, which is a constitutional right. Religious 12-step programs are widely available and are often a default treatment option.

With the help of partners in the secular community, such as the Secular Coalition for America, and secular recovery providers like SMART Recovery and LifeRing, we got an insertion into the budget that empowers federal agencies to work with secular recovery providers.

Alongside our allies, we are standing up to Christian Nationalists with two of our main legislative efforts: the Do No Harm Act and the Scientific Inquiry Act. The Do No Harm Act bans religious exemptions in laws guaranteeing fundamental civil and legal rights and through our allied lobbying, we’ve added 43 new co-sponsors. The Scientific Integrity Act bans political meddling in publicly funded scientific inquiry, has been voted out of committee and is on its way to the House floor.

This is just a sample of what the Strategic Response Team does. Ryan, Mark, Bailey, Amit and Annie Laurie handled more than 500 separate projects this year and a lot of those you’ll never hear about. By its nature, a lot of our work is behind the scenes. But you should know that FFRF’s Strategic Response Team will always be fighting for you.

Andrew L. Seidel is FFRF’s director of strategic response.

Phil Zuckerman added to convention speaker lineup

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is happy to announce that secular studies pioneer Phil Zuckerman will be speaking at FFRF’s convention in San Antonio the weekend of Nov. 13–15.

Zuckerman will join legendary activist Gloria Steinem and literary titans Margaret Atwood and John Irving, along with many others, at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio on the famed Riverwalk. The convention venue is limited to about 900 attendees, so please plan ahead. For more details and to register for the convention, turn to the back page or go to

Zuckerman is the associate dean and professor of sociology at Pitzer College, and the founding chair of the nation’s first Secular Studies Program in Claremont, Calif. He is the author of several books, including What It Means to be Moral (2019), Living the Secular Life (2014), Society Without God (2008) and Faith No More (2012), among others. Zuckerman is also the editor of several volumes, including The Oxford Handbook of Secularism (2016) and The Social Theory of W.E.B. Du Bois (2004). 

Steinem and Atwood both will receive FFRF’s “Forward” Award, which is reserved for those who are moving society forward. The award includes a statuette designed by world-renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis.

Steinem will take part in a conversation with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on Friday, Nov. 13, at 3 p.m., breaking for audience questions. She will then sign copies of her newest book, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! from 4-4:30 p.m. at a private reception, a fundraiser for FFRF. The reception is limited to the first 50 individuals who sign up for the $500 private event, which includes a copy of the book.

Steinem, who’s been billed as “the world’s most famous feminist,” is a journalist who co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, helped found the Women’s Action Alliance, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Media Center, and was president of Voters for Choice, a political action committee, for 25 years. She is founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, Take our Daughters to Work Day, and many other initiatives. Her books include the best-sellers Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, Marilyn: Norma Jean and My Life on the Road.

A life-long reproductive rights activist, Steinem has said: “Do not hang out any place where they won’t let you laugh, including churches and temples.”

“An Evening with Margaret Atwood” will take place Friday night, to include a conversation with journalist Katherine Stewart, who will be speaking herself on Saturday. Atwood has agreed to sign books after her talk. The book signing will be followed by a private reception. Those signing up, also a $500 fundraiser for FFRF, will receive a copy of Atwood’s new and much-lauded The Testaments, which won the 2019 Booker Prize and is a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Atwood is the author of more than 50 volumes of fiction, poetry, children’s literature and nonfiction. Her best-known novels include The Edible Woman, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake, which is being adapted into an HBO TV series by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. A serialized adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has received 13 Emmy nominations and eight awards including for Best Drama.

“Every totalitarian government on the planet has always taken a very great interest in women’s reproductive rights,” says Atwood. Both women have previously been named Humanists of the Year.

Others confirmed to speak at the convention include:

• Journalist and author Katherine Stewart. In addition to conducting the on-stage interview with Margaret Atwood, Stewart will talk about her new book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. She is also the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. In 2014, she was named Person of the Year by Americans United for her coverage of religion, politics, policy and state/church conflicts.

• Black Skeptics Los Angeles founder, novelist and activist Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D, will be receiving FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award. Hutchinson is an educator, author, playwright and director. Her books include Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (2011), Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (2013) and the novel White Nights, Black Paradise (2015) on the Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. She also wrote, directed and produced a short film of “White Nights, Black Paradise.”

• Brian Bolton, an FFRF Lifetime Member, has recently endowed a professorship at the University of Texas at Austin that will focus on the growing segment of the population adhering to a secular worldview. The executive wing of FFRF’s office, Freethought Hall, is named for Bolton, due to his support of FFRF’s headquarters expansion. FFRF will be publishing Bolton’s new work, tentatively titled Why the Bible Is Not a Good Book, this year. Bolton is a retired academic psychologist with a background in mathematics, statistics and psychometrics. He has edited and authored 10 books.

Future issues of Freethought Today will update the list of speakers and honorees. See the back page for registration form and convention information, or go to

FFRF thanks 32 new Life Members

FFRF welcomes 32 Lifetime Members, three Beyond After-Life Members, one After-Life Member and seven Immortals.

The three newest Beyond After-Life Members are Alfred W. Johnson, Karolina Johnson and Brent Pickert. That designation is a tongue-in-cheek-named membership category of $10,000 for those who want their donation to “live on” after them and beyond. 

The newest After-Life Member is Janis L. Solomon. That designation is a membership category of $5,000 for those who want their donation to “live on” after them.

FFRF’s newest $1,000 Lifetime Members are Elena Allen, Frederick Baum, Steve Bratteng, Orlie Brewer, John R. Burrow, Leonard Fiocca, Dwayne Free, Robert Hewson, William Howell Jr., Clint Johnson, Bruce Kopetz, William Krieg, Laura Lakin, Jerry Levine, Pam Marcinko, Jessica Mezzacappa, Shirley Moll, Teresa Palomar, Steve Petersen, Joslyn D. Polzien, Abdul Rehman, Philip D. Ross, Wanda Shirk, Scott K. Simonds, Laura L. Smith, Celeste Smither, William L. Sollee, Zoran Svorcan (gifted from Adam R. Rose), Arelis and Shannon Van Breda, Mickey Weinstein and Tracy Wilkins.

FFRF’s newest Immortals are: Phil and Gay Duran, Donald Hayes, Thomas Morris, JoAnn Papich, Vincent Savarese and Laura R. Wenrick. 

States represented are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.

In the News (March)

Jews, atheists know most about the Holocaust

A new Pew Research Center poll of 10,971 Americans shows that fewer than half of Americans can correctly cite the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust — 6 million — and even fewer correctly answered that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process.

While nearly half of Americans got at least three of the four questions on anti-Semitism right, some groups did better than others. Jews, agnostics and atheists got most of the questions right. Mainline Protestants, Mormons, Catholics, evangelical Protestants and Americans who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” answered about half of the questions correctly.

Most Americans (69 percent) know the Holocaust took place roughly between 1930 and 1950. And they know the Nazis created ghettos where Jews were forced to live (63 percent).

Database available of credibly accused priests

ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country. Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been reported for abuse elsewhere.

To see the database, go here:

Church of England: Sex for married heteros only

The Church of England has stated that sex belongs only within heterosexual marriage, and that sex in gay or straight civil partnerships “falls short of God’s purpose for human beings.”

Bishops have issued pastoral guidance in response to the recent introduction to mixed-sex civil partnerships, which says: “For Christians, marriage — that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows — remains the proper context for sexual activity.”

The Church of England doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. It allows clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships as long as they are sexually abstinent.

Minnesota church to usher out older members

The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minn., will be closing in June, but reopening in November with a much younger parish crowd.

The current members, most of whom are over 60, will be told to worship elsewhere. Officials say the church needs a reset, and reopening the church is the best way to appeal to younger people.

Rev. Dan Wetterstrom said that Methodists’ regional Annual Conference is paying $250,000 to restart the church.

The older members will not be physically barred from attending, but the expectation is that they will not.

“We are asking them to let this happen,” said Wetterstrom. “For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people.

“This whole plan makes me sick. I believe it’s evil,” said William Gacksetter, one of the current older parishioners.

New York town won’t say pledge at meetings

In New York, the Town of Enfield Board will no longer recite the Pledge of Allegiance after it voted to end the practice at its first meeting of the year with two new board members.

Citing the separation of church and state, the idea was floated by new Board Member Stephanie Redmond to remove the words “under God” from the pledge, which is said at the open of public meetings.

The first meeting of the year is often an organizational meeting. As the board considered a procedure for meetings, Redmond questioned if they could remove the specific language from the pledge. Redmond expressed that the language in the pledge contradicted the board’s mission of inclusion.

Judge allows lawsuit against Pittsburgh diocese

A Pennsylvania judge ruled Jan. 9 that a lawsuit can move forward against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The suit by parents and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy members claims the diocese became a public nuisance because they didn’t fulfill obligations under state law to report abusers.

It was originally filed in September of 2018 against each diocese in the state.

The plaintiffs are not seeking any monetary awards from the suit; instead, they say they want names and information of the alleged abusers to be made public.

Attorney Benjamin Sweet insists there’s plenty more that could be revealed, including information about the church’s religious order.

Some evangelical groups shift to ‘church’ status

The Washington Post has reported that several major evangelical organizations have shifted from nonprofit status to “church” status with the IRS, allowing them to keep private exactly how their money is being spent and the salaries of their most highly paid employees.

The IRS status change allows these groups, including Focus on the Family and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to avoid filing a form that makes details of their institution’s finances public.

The Post reports that leaders of the groups say they are changing their status to avoid administrative costs; some also believe that this status with the IRS could allow them extra religious freedom protections in potential lawsuits over LGBT rights. The potential cost of applying to be a church is that the organizations cannot campaign on behalf of politicians or devote a substantial part of their work to lobbying on legislation. Critics say the option deprives the public of important information about how the tax-exempt organizations are operating.

Tennessee discriminates against same-sex couples

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a bill that allows private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with a family that conflicts with their religious beliefs.

It states that “no private licensed child-placing agency shall be required to . . . participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

The legislation also prohibits any civil actions being taken against faith-based adoption agencies that refuse on religious grounds to place children in homes they morally disagree with, notably same-sex couples.

Pete Stark dies; was first nonreligious U.S. Rep.

The first openly nonreligious member of Congress, former U.S. Rep. Pete Stark Jr., 88, died Jan. 24 at his home in Harwood, Md., of leukemia.

Stark received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, reserved for public figures who make known their dissent from religion, in 2010.

“Our Emperor Award is for those who ‘tell it like it is about religion,’” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Clearly, Pete Stark’s philosophy was to ‘tell it like it is,’ period. We honor his forthrightness and generosity to the freethought movement, and his lifetime accomplishments.”

Fortney Hillman “Pete” Stark Jr. was born Nov. 11, 1931, in Milwaukee. He graduated in 1953 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then served in the Air Force before receiving a master’s degree of business administration from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960.

After being elected to the House of Representatives in 1972, Stark spent 40 years in Congress, but it was 13 years ago, in 2007, when he announced he was nontheistic (although he called himself a Unitarian). 

Stark was known as a staunch backer of health care for all. He helped put together the Affordable Care Act, played a key role in establishing the COBRA program, which became law in 1986, and was an architect of the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

Meet a member: After studying religions, pilot lands as freethinker

Name: Amy Hall.

Where I live: Hiding out in the woods of Bible Belt, Arkansas.

Where and when I was born: 1967 in Lorain, Ohio.

Family: My mom, stepdad and one brother live near me. I have another brother in Ohio. My real father died of brain cancer when I was 9. None of us is religious anymore.

Education: Kent State University in Ohio, where I earned a bachelor of science degree and acquired my first series of pilot licenses.    

Occupation: Airline pilot. Pilots who carry cargo only are affectionately called “freight dogs.” Boxes don’t complain about the ride or the cabin temperature. I am frequently overseas. Some military contracts have taken me to interesting and not-so-interesting places. A few years ago, I flew an engine for NASA’s 747 Sophia to Christchurch, New Zealand.   

Military service: When I first started college, I joined ROTC, hoping to win a scholarship and a flying commission. Neither worked out, luckily, as campus cadet life was not my cup of tea. 

How I got where I am today: Through Kent State’s flight program I earned my Private, Commercial, and then Instructor ratings, and so was able to mentor other beginning flight students.

After college, I taught at a private flight school near my hometown before I landed my first airline job, flying small 20-seat aircraft around New Mexico and Colorado. I moved up to larger and larger aircraft and now find myself in command of a Boeing 747 freighter and mentoring new-hire pilots and those looking to advance.

Where I’m headed: I have a small developing farm in Arkansas that is part of my retirement plan. I put a little bit at a time into the infrastructure whenever I am home. 

Person in history I admire and why: Mary Roach. Her books make me laugh because you cannot believe the lengths that woman will go to in the name of science.

A quotation I like: “If only God would give some clear sign! Like making a deposit in my name at a Swiss Bank.” — Woody Allen.

These are a few of my favorite things: Art museums, meadows of wildflowers, lofty views and my emus.

These are not: Gaslighters, naysayers, robo-calls.

My doubts about religion started: When I started scrutinizing the lyrics in the hymnals. My mom took us to the Church of Christ, one grandmother to the Methodist Church, the other grandmother to the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Well, I decided that I was perfectly capable of reading that bible for myself. Not so easy, of course. So, I perused bookshops looking for books on how to interpret what I was reading. I found books on all kinds of religions and religious history. However, it took my grandfather’s death to suddenly realize I’d studied my way out of any belief system.

Before I die: Oh, I still have a list of things. Most involve travel, with The Great Wall, Petra, Machu Picchu and Galápagos Islands as just some of the destinations.

Amy Hall sits in the cockpit of a Boeing 747.

Freethought Today caption contest winner!

Congratulations to Chafin Rhyne of North Carolina for winning FFRF’s caption contest from the January/February issue. For his winning caption, Chafin wins an FFRF T-shirt.

The winning caption is: Boy, that was a long sermon!

Top runners-up include: Thoughts and prayers in action. — Chris Kramer of Missouri.

Still open for bingo, Mondays at 7 p.m. — Paul Riley of New York.

Sure, it’s run down and old, but so is the dogma that built it. — Stephen Van Eck of Pennsylvania.

Raze the Lord! — Darrell Barker of Washington.

Jesus doesn’t live here anymore. — Pat Winchild of Florida.

Thanks to all who participated. If you’ve taken any photos that you think would be good for this contest, please email them to

FFRF Caption contest:
Norm Moyer sent us this photo of a dilapidated church on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Heads Up poetry column: Our Tree

By Philip Appleman


Our Tree

When we dug it out, thirty summers back,

it wasn’t as thick as a wrist, but it was straight,

symmetrical: a hard maple

with good genes.

Small as it was, with its little world of dirt,

it took four of us to lug it back

along the river bank, to shade

the shy grass at a brand-new house.

Once in our ground, as the Bible says,

it was nothing but chattel:

we owned it.

Now paint is scabbing off the house,

and rust is cancer in the eaves again,

but the tree is tall and full

and tropically green. Two of us

who carried that sapling home

are underground forever; the other two

are going gray and making out their wills.

The maple sees it all: every year

it takes a deep breath, puffs

a thousand wings, and murmurs in the breeze:

There, you flesh-and-bloods who thought you owned me,

my seeds are dancing over fields and meadows,

and when you’re lying low and making earth,

I’ll send up sturdy shoots around your graves.

(New and Selected Poems, 1956–1966)

Former churches with better missions