Billboards target ‘megapreachers’

This billboard by FFRF was up for a month in the Nashville area in September.

FFRF kicked off in Nashville a national billboard campaign in September targeting what FFRF calls “irresponsible megapreachers.” 

The 14-by-48-foot billboards, in a stained-glass-window motif, gave the advice to “Sleep in on Sunday” and “Enjoy life now — there is no afterlife.” 

The eye-catching billboards were on I-24 West, west of Briley Parkway, and on Lebanon Road, a mile east of Andrew Jackson Parkway. They went up in early September and were up for a full month. The billboard messages were directed at megachurch pastors Kent Christmas of Regeneration Nashville, and Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church, and, of course, their flocks. 

Locke is the incendiary preacher who has perpetuated QAnon conspiracy myths and has castigated the pope, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks. He has called President Biden “demon-possessed,” Vice President Kamala Harris a “jezebel demon” and claimed they oversee “child-trafficking” tunnels underneath the White House. Locke termed Donald Trump the “legitimate” leader of the United States in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Most concerningly, the pastor was in the mob outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, praying with a bullhorn — and hyped the riot ahead of time. After the riot, he was banned by social media. Unfortunately, Locke remains influential, with more than 2 million followers on Facebook. 

Kent Christmas, who is founding pastor of Regeneration Nashville and heads Kent Christmas Ministries International, has likewise insisted that Trump won the presidential election, and that the presidential race was “a war between heaven and hell.” Christmas, who is stridently opposed to abortion and gay rights, and routinely spouts off about “demons” and “sin,” claims to be a prophet of doom. 

In its billboard campaign, FFRF advised the good folks of Nashville to ignore these figures.

“It would be far better to sleep in on Sunday — or commune with nature or volunteer to help someone — than to waste time getting infected with disinformation by either of these blowhards,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The only afterlife that ought to concern any of us is leaving our descendants and planet a secure and pleasant future.”

Locke recorded a video of himself burning a copy of the book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, written by Andrew L. Seidel, FFRF’s director of strategic response. “America would be kinder, healthier and happier if fewer people listened to Locke and more listened to their conscience. Don’t waste another minute swallowing the hate spewed by these peddlers of outrage,” says Seidel. “Take a nap instead.”

Gaylor notes that the “truly good news” is that church attendance in the United States is dropping off precipitously, with less than half of Americans claiming to belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 70 percent church membership in 1999.

Similar billboard messages from FFRF will soon be aimed at Houston megapreacher Joel Osteen.

FFRF condemns Supreme Court’s blow to Roe

Texas abortion cartoon

In a shocking action, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order officially declining to block Texas’s draconian abortion ban.

In a 5-4 ruling, the high court rejected a request to bar enforcement of the law, contending that applicants failed to meet their burden to stay the law. The one-paragraph opinion was unsigned. Gratifyingly, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberal bloc — Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan — in dissenting.

The Texas law that went into effect Sept. 1 is the most restrictive abortion law in the country, banning abortion procedures after six weeks of gestation — which is two weeks after a missed period and before most women even know that they are pregnant. Outrageously, the law deputizes private citizens to file civil suits against abortion providers or anyone who assists someone in obtaining an abortion, offering a “bounty” reward of $10,000 and attorneys’ fees for a successful lawsuit.

Roberts, joined in his dissent by Kagan and Breyer, noted that the Texas law is “not only unusual, but unprecedented” and “appears to insulate the state from responsibility.” Given the novelty of the law and the questions still before the court, he stated he would have blocked implementation of the law “to preserve the status quo.”

Sotomayor, who has become the new voice of dissent on the high court, wrote her own passionate dissent, also joined by Breyer and Kagan, appropriately calling the order “stunning.” She termed the law “a breathtaking act of defiance — of the Constitution, of this court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.” She castigated the majority for “bury[ing] their heads in the sand.” Her footnote noted the immediate and devastating impact of the court’s failure upon pregnant people in Texas.

Kagan issued her own dissent, also joined by Sotomayor and Breyer, highlighting concerns that the shadow docket ruling departed “from the usual principles of appellate process.” She added, “the majority’s decision is emblematic of too much of this Court’s shadow-docket decision-making — which every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend.”

The unsigned majority opinion acknowledged that the fight is not over, contending “this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts.”

The case will continue in the lower courts. Later this year, the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involving the constitutionality of a Mississippi law banning abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

“The court’s action has stripped millions of Texans of their fundamental rights under our Constitution and has effectively overruled Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood,” says FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert. “This decision makes clear that we cannot rely on the current Supreme Court — packed with ultraconservative Christian nationalist justices during President Trump’s term in office — from abiding by the rule of law. 

The only path forward is to fix our broken federal judiciary through legislation.”

FFRF’s new Reagan ad airs on Colbert, Maddow TV shows

A fresh version of an iconic Freedom From Religion Foundation ad featuring Ron Reagan premiered on Rachel Maddow’s and Stephen Colbert’s highly watched TV  shows.

The updated ad, in which the “unabashed atheist” is still notably “not afraid of burning in hell,” debuted on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.” It ran six times, from Sept. 7 through Sept. 9, and then from  Sept. 14 through Sept. 16.

The new 30-second spot also appeared six times on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” on CBS nationally, from Sept. 20 through Sept. 22 and from Sept. 28 through Sept. 30.

This year is the first year that the CBS national network has accepted the ad. 

In the updated TV spot, Reagan, a former ballet dancer, is still seated on stage in an empty auditorium — but the new ad is more colorful, with added technical pizzaz and a few minor modifications. Reagan’s memorable lines still sing:

“Hi, I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed, as you may be, by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to join 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 Founders intended. Please join the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”

Ron also recorded a more intimate 50-second digital spot reflecting on what’s changed since he first recorded the spot in 2014.

Reagan, who is the son of President Reagan and Nancy Reagan, has spoken on FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” TV show about why he stopped attending church as a 12-year-old and what happened when he told his father. He has received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award for his outspoken, life-long identification as an atheist and advocate of the separation between religion and government.

After FFRF aired the ad during several Democratic presidential debates carried by CNN in 2019, Reagan was credited with “winning” and becoming the top trending search on Google.

“We are so grateful to Ron for continuing to lend his celebrity to the Freedom From Religion Foundation,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Everywhere we go, including in Congress, the public now recognizes FFRF, thanks to Ron, and realizes there are many atheists and freethinkers in America, including the son of a conservative president.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor: Goodbye, and thank you, Ed Asner

Ed Asner cradles FFRF’s Clarence Darrow award given to him in 2020.

By Annie Laurie Gaylor 

Meeting and interviewing Ed Asner, who died Aug. 29, has to be one of the most serendipitous and memorable moments from a lifetime spent working with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

Our meeting all began in late 2019, when Amit Pal, our director of communications who previously worked with The Progressive magazine, noted that Ed would be in town for a fundraising play for the publication. He asked me: “Would you like me to see if FFRF can interview him?” I remember replying, “Sure! But that seems like a long shot.”

To my great delight, Amit and The Progressive came through, and we set up an appointment to record an interview with Ed Asner for FFRF’s TV show, “Freethought Matters,” in FFRF’s Stephen Uhl Friendly Atheist Studio in our office in downtown Madison, Wis. His daughter Liza, who was associated with the fundraising show and indicated she is an atheist, was extremely helpful and emailed about directions. Shortly before they were due to arrive, there was a knock on the back door by my first-floor office. It was Liza, unsure where to park. She asked if I could come out and direct them after I told her she was in the wrong driveway. I ran out in my high-heeled shoes and no coat into the icy December morning and got into the backseat of the car to direct her.

“Who’re you?” asked Ed, who was sitting in the front seat.

I told him my name. He immediately began serenading me with the old Scottish ballad I am named for. “Maxwellton’s braes are bonnie,” he belted out, “where early falls the dew.” He was still singing by the time we got around the block and into the proper driveway. As I got out, I asked him: “Would you be willing to sing that song during the interview?”

“Sure,” he replied.

And indeed he did. After Dan Barker and I introduced Ed as the legendary seven-time Emmy-winning actor and progressive activist, we interviewed him about his freethinking credentials. Before the first segment ended, I reminded him that he had said he would be willing to sing “Annie Laurie.” He said, “Say please.” I did — and the rest is history.  

He was so gracious that I dared another request. After the show, when he was willing to pose with the crew, I told him our young staff of almost 30 were so excited to learn he was in the building. Would he be willing to meet them in our lobby? 

“Sure.”

While waiting for the staff to assemble, I pointed out to him the framed photo of my mother in the Anne Nicol Gaylor Lobby, and mentioned that she was FFRF’s principal founder and had died in 2015. He glanced at me sympathetically and asked her age when she died. “Eighty-eight,” I told him. He nodded sympathetically, then asked about my dad. “He died in 2011 at 84,” I told him. He reminded me so much of my father —  in particular his gruff, humorous demeanor. They were the same generation, a generation we are quickly losing.

I also showed him the Clarence Darrow statuette on display in our lobby — a miniature of the 7-foot-tall statue created by sculptor Zenos Frudakis, which FFRF placed in Dayton, Tenn., on the lawn of the courthouse where the Scopes trial was conducted. I explained that the actor John De Lancie, who had portrayed Clarence Darrow in a play opposite Ed Asner as William Jennings Bryan, had helped dedicate the statue at the unveiling.

Ed raised his eyebrows when I told him John had been given the first award. “What about me?” he asked. Soon after, we arranged to name Ed Asner our 2020 Clarence Darrow Award honoree, and, during the lockdown, he sent a video speech accepting the statuette, which he cradled in his arms. In that short acceptance speech, Ed said: “You are so essential to a democracy. It’s not easy to challenge religion in America, but it’s most necessary.”

I recently emailed him to ask if he would give us permission to use that endorsement publicly in our materials. 

“Sure,” came the reply.

Last week, I was watching the Netflix TV series “Grace and Frankie,” co-starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Lo and behold, there, at the end of the fourth episode, was Ed. He was in an electric scooter and his diction seemed a wee bit less firm, but he commanded the screen, as always. The pandemic slowed production, and the rest of the episodes are still being filmed. I hope Ed was able to complete his role in that filming. His work ethic, right to the very end, is so amazing, and his commitment, including going on the road in the ice and snow in late 2019 to do a fundraiser for The Progressive magazine, and stopping on the way to visit us here at FFRF.

Ed Asner touched so many lives as an actor and an activist, and I’m ever grateful he spared so much time for us at the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of FFRF.

Overheard (Oct. 2021)

Nobody really chooses a religion. We’re born with it and then we try to justify it because we get emotionally attached.  

Alaa Al Awwany, renowned Egyptian novelist.

Wall Street Journal, 8-6-21


The end-of-the-world vision at the heart of the new Republican orthodoxy may help explain a further observation: The people who attend these kinds of religious nationalist gatherings — the activist backbone of the Republican Party — are in no mood to back down from the Jan. 6th attempt to subvert the presidential election through a brutal and disgraceful attack on our Capitol. 

Columnist and author Katherine Stewart, in her article, “What’s missing from popular discussions of today’s Christian nationalism?”

Religion Dispatches, 8-9-21


False equivalence is the bread and butter of the post-truth approach, and the upshot, thanks to misguided media insistence on giving “both sides” of any “controversy” a hearing, has been the normalization of extremism and the enabling of America’s surging conspiratorial far Right — especially the Christian Right.

Chrissy Stroop, in her article, “Is being trans a religion? Why the Christian Right wants you to think so.”

Religion Dispatches, 8-6-21


Why are we systematically killing the scientific spirit by instilling in our citizens a body of irrational thought? Let us unite to denounce pseudoscience and promote the scientific spirit and temper.

Partha P. Majumder, writing about the establishment of a Master’s program in astrology at Indira Gandhi National Open University.

The Indian Express, 8-25-21


Many rank-and-file conservative Christians have come to see their faith as a form of identity threatened by the forces of secularism and diversity.

E.J. Dionne Jr., in his column, “Can religion strengthen democracy?”

Washington Post, 8-25-21 


Democrats must not take for granted the increasing number of atheists and agnostics in their coalition. . . . Data indicate that atheists are the most politically active religious group in the United States in recent years. In a 2018 survey, atheists were twice as likely to donate money or work for a political candidate as white evangelicals. Atheists want the Democratic Party to become more progressive and are unlikely to remain silent if they don’t see changes.

Ryan Burge, political science professor at Eastern Illinois University, in his column, “A more secular America is not just a problem for Republicans.”

The New York Times, 8-25-21


I am sure Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who famously spends a good deal of his time composing press releases about religious liberty issues in other states, will be proud to see that Texas’s robust religious liberty laws, which he so vociferously champions, will prevent future abortion rituals from being interrupted by superfluous government restrictions meant only to shame and harass those seeking an abortion.

Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is suing Texas for the abortion restrictions “which impede TST’s abortion ritual.”

TheSatanticTemple.com, 9-5-21

Meet a member: After three churches, Brooks Rimes found reason

Brooks Rimes with his wife Brenda.

Name: Brooks Rimes.

Where I live: Grand Island, N.Y.

Where and when I was born: Buffalo, N.Y., 1953.

Family: I live with my wife, Brenda. We celebrated our 40th anniversary in March.  Sons, their spouses and grandchildren live nearby.

Education: I have an associate of applied sciences degree in data processing and professional certifications from Microsoft.

Occupation: I retired in 2015 from software work with a major regional bank headquartered in Buffalo. During my career, I spent many years at Moore Business Forms and Electronic Data Systems (during the Ross Perot years). I also have a sole proprietorship (“The Access Guy”) and continue to do a small amount of paid and pro-bono work.  

How I got where I am today: I was raised Roman Catholic, attended a public school, but once a week was sent to “religious instructions” and made my first communion and confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church. Later, my mother took my brother and me to a Wesleyan Methodist church. Members jumping out of their pews to give personal testimonials in the middle of a sermon were quite a departure from the Catholic Church. Later, I joined a Presbyterian church due to the minister being such a nice fellow and became a deacon and quite involved in that church.  

Where I’m headed: Doing snowbirding throughout the United States in a motorhome with my wife. Later, traveling to a long bucket list of international destinations when the Covid-19 situation improves.

Person in history I admire and why: Carl Sagan, both for his work in astronomy (creator of “Cosmos”) and his freethinking writing.

A quotation I like: “I feel that we should stop wasting our time trying to please the supernatural and concentrate on improving the welfare of human beings.” — Ruth Hurmence Green, American author.

Things I like: Travel, hiking, biking, doing things with our sons and grandchildren, board games, puzzles, writing software, mysteries, science fiction, libraries and Mensa gatherings.

Things I smite: All those who try to force their religion onto others and/or remove the separation between church and state.

My doubts about religion started: The three churches I attended raised many unanswerable questions in my mind. My tipping point came shortly after a family member joined a born-again Christian church and I learned of their beliefs that they were the only ones that would go to heaven. It became apparent that all the major religions have conflicting and ludicrous supernatural beliefs. It was time to stop thinking about which was “correct” and to come to the obvious conclusion that they are all false and based on fables.  

Before I die: I would like to live for one or more months in one or more foreign countries and I would like to see the percent of “Nones” in the USA dramatically increase.

Ways I promote freethought: Belonging to and supporting FFRF, the Center For Inquiry and American Atheists. And writing the book Freethinking Cryptograms (available on Amazon). 

[Editor’s note: His cryptogram puzzles are featured in each issue on Page 4.] 

I wish you had asked me about: Volunteer work. I am a past member of the Lions Club International and Rotary International and currently work with the local chapter of SCORE, an arm of the Small Business Administration that mentors entrepreneurs.

Phil Zuckerman: Atheists show higher morals than the pious

Phil Zuckerman

This article first appeared Aug. 21 on Salon.com and is reprinted with permission.

By Phil Zuckerman 

Two recent events have shed an illuminating light on who is and who isn’t moral in today’s world.

First, Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leader in the U.S. Catholic Church and a staunch anti-masker/vaxxer, was put on a ventilator as a result of his suffering from Covid-19. Second, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest data-rich report, warning that “unless there are rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach.”

The global pandemic and the rapid warming of our planet — these dire phenomena are, above all, deeply moral matters in that they both entail care for the well-being of others and a desire to alleviate misery and suffering.

Now, while most people assume that such a morality is grounded in religious faith, and while it is certainly true that all religions contain plenty of moral ideals, in our nation today, it is actually the most secular among us who are exhibiting a greater moral orientation — in the face of deadly threats — than the most devout among us, who are exhibiting the least.

Before proceeding, let me make it clear: When I say the “most secular among us,” I mean atheists, agnostics, people who never attend religious services, don’t think the bible is the word of God, and don’t pray. Such self-conscious and deliberatively irreligious people are to be distinguished from the lackadaisically unaffiliated — often called “Nones” — who simply don’t identify with a religion.

And by the “most devout among us,” I mean religious fundamentalists who believe in God without any doubts, who attend church frequently, who consider the bible the infallible word of God, who pray a lot, and who insist that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life. These strongly religious folks are to be distinguished from moderately religious Americans, who are generally liberal and tolerant.

Think of it like two ends of a spectrum, with one end representing the staunchly secular and the other end representing the deeply devout. Most Americans fall somewhere in the middle — both the “Nones” and the moderately religious together comprise the majority of Americans. But as to those who occupy the end points of the spectrum, it is — as stated above — the affirmatively godless who are exhibiting greater moral proclivities in our nation today than the proudly pious.

We can start with the global pandemic. Covid-19 is a potentially deadly virus that has caused — and continues to cause — dire woe. Surely, to be moral in the face of such a dangerous disease is to do everything one can — within one’s limited power — to thwart it. No moral person would want to willfully spread it, bolster it or prolong its existence. And yet, when it comes to the battle against Covid-19, it is the most secular of Americans who are doing what they can to wipe it out, while it is the most faithful among us, especially nationalistic white evangelicals, who are keeping it alive and well. Taking the vaccine saves lives and thwarts the spread of the virus. So, too, does sheltering in place as directed and wearing protective face masks. And yet, here in the United States, it is generally the most religious among us who refuse to adhere to such life-saving practices, while it is the most secular who most willingly comply. For example, a recent Pew Research study found that while only 10 percent of atheists said that they would definitely or probably not get vaccinated, 45 percent of white evangelicals took such a position.

Consider climate change. The best available data shows that — as a direct result of human activity — we are destroying our planet. The results are already manifesting with greater and deadlier frequency: poisoned air and water, massive wildfires, stronger hurricanes, brutal mudslides, quickly melting glaciers, rising sea levels, the wanton disappearance of forests and coral reefs. Such developments do not bode well for the future; more suffering and death are on the rapidly approaching horizon. 

And, yet again, what do we see? It is the most staunchly secular among us who understand the science behind climate change and want to do what needs to be done in order to prevent it, while it is the most pious among us who dismiss the science and don’t want to address the dire threat. For example, a recent PRRI study found that over 80 percent of secular Americans accept the evidence that human activity is causing climate change — and they place addressing climate change at the top of the list of their political priorities — while only 33 percent of white evangelicals accept such evidence, and thus place it toward the bottom of their list of political priorities.

But it’s not just the pandemic and climate change that illustrate this widening religious/secular moral divide. Take gun violence. Currently, more Americans die annually from firearms than automobile accidents. Since 2009, there have been 255 mass shootings in the United States; every few hours, a child or teen dies from a gun wound. When the founders of the country passed the Second Amendment, they couldn’t have imagined the instantaneous devastation a semi-automatic rifle can do in the hands of one vicious person. And there is no question that Jesus — who taught an unmitigated message of nonviolence — would denounce the existence of such weapons. And yet, who is more pro-gun in today’s America? Not the hardest of atheists. Rather, it is the most fervent of Christians. For but one example: While 77 percent of atheists are in favor of banning assault rifles, only 45 percent of white evangelicals are.

In terms of who supports helping refugees, affordable health care for all, accurate sex education, death with dignity, gay rights, transgender rights, animal rights; and as to who opposes militarism, the governmental use of torture, the death penalty, corporal punishment, and so on — the correlation remains: The most secular Americans exhibit the most care for the suffering of others, while the most religious exhibit the highest levels of indifference.

But wait — what about the rights of the unborn? While many people oppose abortion on decidedly moral grounds, it is also the case that many others support the right of women to maintain autonomy over their own reproductive capacities, on equally moral grounds. Hence, the deep intractability of the debate. And yet, most Americans — both religious and nonreligious — do not see the abortion of a nonviable fetus as being akin to the murder of a living human being. And let’s be frank: It is impossible to square the assertion that the strongly religious are “pro-life” while they simultaneously refuse to get vaccinated, to wear a mask, to fight climate change, to support universal health care, or to support sane gun legislation. To characterize such an agenda as “pro-life” renders the label rather insincere, at best.

Admittedly, how morality plays out in the world is always complex, with numerous exceptions to the correlations above. For example, African Americans tend to be highly religious and yet are also extremely supportive of gun control. The Catholic Church, which has deftly overseen the most extensive pedophile ring in history, and continues to ban the life-saving use of condoms, also happens to morally oppose the death penalty. One study has found that evangelicals actually get vaccinated at higher rates than the religiously unaffiliated (though not at a higher rate than agnostics). And members of religious congregations tend to donate more money to charity, on average, than the unaffiliated. And, of course, the 20th century has witnessed the immoral, bloody brutality of numerous atheist dictatorships, such as those of the former USSR and Cambodia.

However, despite such complexities, the overall pattern remains clear: When it comes to the most pressing moral issues of the day, hard-core secularists exhibit much more empathy, compassion and care for the well-being of others than the most ardently God-worshipping. Such a reality is necessary to expose, not simply in order to debunk the long-standing canard that religion is necessary for ethical living, but because such exposure renders all the more pressing the need for a more consciously secular citizenry, one that lives in reality, embraces science and empiricism, and supports sound policies — not prayer — as a way to make life better, safer and more humane.

Phil Zuckerman is associate dean of Pitzer College and the author of Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. He will be a featured speaker at FFRF’s convention in Boston in November.

FFRF files amicus brief with Supreme Court

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its secular allies are pushing back in the U.S. Supreme Court against Mississippi’s religion-infused attempt to severely curtail abortion rights. 

FFRF has drafted and filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the highest court in the land in Dobbs v. Jackson Health Organization. In the brief, FFRF puts forth a well-reasoned argument as to why Mississippi’s lawsuit to effectively overturn Roe v. Wade will require courts to confront the religious purposes underlying abortion bans: “Religion has always been at the heart of anti-abortion legislation, and Mississippi House Bill 1510 is likewise motivated by religious ideology.” 

This is revealed by various highly sectarian religious statements that Mississippi legislators made in support of the legislation, such as: “I believe that life is precious and children are a gift from God” and “I am not God, but I serve a God who says life is in the blood. And this bill will protect those lives.”

The brief elaborates on its secularly informed assertion.

“The state is asking the court to toss out the decades-long safeguard of choice before viability, and require courts to engage in fact-finding and searching analysis of state interests in order to judge them compelling enough to justify abortion bans,” it states. “But doing away with the viability framework and asking courts to review and weigh state interests before viability will require courts to address the underlying purpose of such abortion bans — to enshrine into civil law a religious belief about when personhood begins.”

Due to the religious impetus of Mississippi’s anti-abortion onslaught, FFRF felt a compelling need to make itself heard in this Supreme Court case.

As FFRF stated in May when the Supreme Court decided to hear the lawsuit, abortion access and care are unnecessarily divisive due to the ideological motivations of the few. A recent Pew study found that the majority of Americans believes that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 82 percent of religiously unaffiliated people support legal abortions. Not surprisingly, today almost all of FFRF’s members consider reproductive rights a vital secular policy issue. A recent membership survey showed that 98.8 percent of FFRF members support the constitutional right to legal abortion embodied in Roe v. Wade. Among FFRF members and the general population, abortion rights have high approval, but a religious minority is driving the agenda of states such as Mississippi.

This brief states in its closing portion: “The government has no business requiring citizens to comply with the religious beliefs of those who are in power. The framers of the Constitution adopted a godless and entirely secular Constitution, in which the only references to religion are exclusionary.”

It is simply unconstitutional for a state to force a religious belief about personhood onto anyone else, FFRF contends and urges the Supreme Court to uphold the judgment of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down the Mississippi anti-abortion law.

FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell drafted the amicus brief for the organization, with help from FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott and FFRF Reproductive Rights Intern Barbara Alvarez. The Center for Inquiry and American Atheists are the other groups that have joined in FFRF’s brief.

FFRF commends DOJ move against Texas abortion ban

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is cheering the news that the U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas over its draconian, dystopian abortion prohibition that deputizes everyone as bounty hunters.

“May we say ‘Hallelujah,’” remarks FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the Texas lawsuit at a press conference.

“The United States therefore seeks a declaratory judgment that SB 8 [the Texas law] is invalid under the Supremacy Clause and the 14th Amendment, is pre-empted by federal law, and violates the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity,” states the DOJ complaint. “The United States also seeks an order preliminarily and permanently enjoining the state of Texas, including its officers, employees, and agents, including private parties who would bring suit under the law, from implementing or enforcing SB 8.”

FFRF has been at the forefront of raising the alarm about this awful measure. FFRF statements came down against the law going into effect and the Supreme Court’s eventual decision. We’ve also mobilized members to call on Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and to expand the courts — the only real solution. FFRF’s legal team has been working to educate the public on the bill and court expansion with a number of highly placed op-eds, blogs, and a fascinating episode of “Ask An Atheist” with a leading scholar.

“Nintey-nine percent of FFRF members support the right to choose,” says FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, “precisely because this is a state/church issue. The end of reproductive justice is an attempt to legislate biblical law into our secular law. Of course, FFRF is going to do all it can to stop that.” 

Markert notes that some arguments in the lawsuit are novel and interesting: “The lawsuit appears to use Texas’ refusal to exempt rape and incest in the original law as a way to argue that it impedes federal agencies from doing their job and makes them liable for the $10,000 bounty, leading to the novel intergovernmental immunity argument that the DOJ has asserted in its complaint.” 

Texas cartoon by Steve Benson

In the News (Oct. 2021)

Evolution now accepted by majority of Americans

Public acceptance of evolution in the United States has reached 54 percent, according to a study based on a series of national opinion surveys conducted over the last 35 years.

The study identified aspects of education, such as taking college courses in science and having a college degree, as the strongest factors leading to the acceptance of evolution.

“It’s hard to earn a college degree without acquiring at least a little respect for the success of science,” said study co-author Mark Ackerman, a researcher at Michigan Engineering.

Over the past decade, the percentage of American adults who agreed that humans evolved from earlier species of animals increased from 40 percent to 54 percent.

The current study consistently identified religious fundamentalism as the strongest factor leading to the rejection of evolution.  As of 2019, 34 percent of conservative Republicans accepted evolution compared to 83 percent of liberal Democrats.

Study: Christians see LGBT gains as threatening

New research suggests that many Christians, especially conservative ones, think that Christians are hurt by advances for LGBT people.

Even though the majority of LGBT individuals identify as Christian, many Christians don’t understand this. Instead, they “perceive a zero-sum relationship with LGBT people: believing that social advances for sexual and gender minorities are harmful and threatening to Christians,” write  Clara L. Wilkins and Lerone A. Martin, authors of the study.

For example, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage as an “effort to secularize” the country “by force and intimidation.”

8-year-old charged with blasphemy in Pakistan

An 8-year-old Hindu boy is being held in protective police custody in eastern Pakistan after becoming the youngest person ever to be charged with blasphemy in the country.

The boy’s family is in hiding and many of the Hindu community in Rahim Yar Khan have fled their homes after a Muslim crowd attacked a Hindu temple after the boy’s release on bail in mid-August. 

The boy is accused of intentionally urinating on a carpet in the library of a madrassa, where religious books were kept. Blasphemy charges can carry the death penalty.

Court: Parole program violated atheist’s rights

A Colorado parole officer and the operator of a Christian transitional program violated an atheist’s First Amendment rights if they forced him to either participate in religious programming or go to jail, the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals decided on Aug 6.

The court reinstated the lawsuit of atheist Mark Janny, who ultimately was subjected to 150 days in custody because he refused to attend morning prayer and bible studies at Fort Collins Rescue Mission, where his parole officer had directed him to live.

“A state actor violates the Free Exercise Clause by coercing or compelling participation in religious activity against one’s expressly stated beliefs,” Judge Carolyn B. McHugh wrote in the court’s opinion.

Gen X the last raised with traditional religion

“Generation X — those born between 1965 and the early 1980s — is the last generation to come of age and even perpetuate an overwhelmingly Christian and largely devout religious landscape in terms of church attendance and beliefs about God,” writes Ryan Burge in his article, “Don’t blame the boomers for decline of religion in America.”

Burge is assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and a researcher of religious trends.

Burge writes that, in the late 1980s, only about 11 percent of Gen Xers said that they had no religious affiliation, but that increased to around 20 percent by the mid-2000s, but has mostly stayed the same since then.

“That’s clearly not the case for millennials, who dropped about 10 percentage points in 20 years in reporting their certainty about a supreme being,” he writes. “It’s still very early to come to any firm conclusions about Generation Z, but there’s ample reason to believe that they are half as likely as Gen X to express a certain belief — leaving millennials as the generation that was the great divide.”

The new head chaplain at Harvard is an atheist 

Greg Epstein, author of Good Without God, was unanimously named the president of Harvard University’s organization of chaplains. 

According to The New York Times, he will coordinate the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious communities on campus. 

“There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life,” said Epstein, who was raised in a Jewish household and has been Harvard’s humanist chaplain since 2005. “We don’t look to a god for answers. We are each other’s answers.”

N.Y. removes religious exemption from mandate

New York’s Public Health and Health Planning Council approved emergency regulations Aug. 26 requiring that hospital workers be vaccinated for Covid-19, while removing religious exemptions. 

The requirement applies to hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic and treatment centers, adult care facilities, certified home health agencies, hospices, long-term home health care programs, AIDS home care programs, licensed home care service agencies and limited licensed home care service agencies.

“We’re not constitutionally required to provide a religious exemption,” said Vanessa Murphy, a Department of Health attorney. “You see that with the measles and the mumps requirement for health care workers.”

FBI: Atheists not often targeted in hate crimes

On Aug. 30, the FBI released its report, “Hate Crime Statistics, 2020,” the  latest compilation about bias-motivated incidents throughout the nation. 

Anti-atheism and anti-agnosticism were on the receiving end of only 7 incidents out of 7,759 total reported cases, which is less than 0.01 percent.

Anti-Black crimes occurred the most, with 2,755 incidents. Second-most was anti-white crime, with 773 incidents. As for anti-religion crime, anti-Jewish crimes led the way with 676 incidents. Anti-Muslim was next with 104 incidents.

The 2020 data was submitted by 15,136 law enforcement agencies.

The report shows that 61.9 percent of victims were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, 20.5 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias, 13.4 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias, 2.5 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ gender identity bias, 1 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias, and 0.7 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias.

Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalizes abortion

On Sept. 7, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional, setting a precedent that could lead to legalization of the procedure across the conservative Catholic country of about 130 million people.

The unanimous ruling follows years of efforts by a growing women’s movement in Mexico that has repeatedly taken to the streets of major cities to demand greater rights and protections, The New York Times reports.

The decision does not automatically make abortion legal across Mexico, experts said, but it does set a binding precedent for judges across the country. Abortion rights advocates said they planned to use the ruling to challenge laws in the vast majority of Mexican states that mandate jail time or other criminal penalties for women who have the procedure.

For now, analysts said, women arrested for having an abortion can sue state authorities to have the charges dropped. Activists also plan to push state authorities to free women now serving prison terms for having had abortions.

Atheists most vaccinated
‘religious’ group 

New data from the Pew Research Center shows that atheists are most vaccinated “religious” group in the country.

Fully 90 percent of atheists are vaccinated, compared to just 57 percent of white evangelicals and 73 percent of the country’s adults overall.

The numbers show some interesting trends. Agnostics lag slightly behind atheists, while “nothing in particular” Nones are about average. Catholics score above average, and Hispanic Catholics even better than agnostics. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, has been urging people to get vaccinated and has been working to end religious exemptions to vaccinations even before the pandemic.