FFRF’s 40th anniversary special section

Cover of FFRF’s 40th anniversary section.

FFRF is celebrating its 40th year as a national organization in 2018.  Check out all of the content from our special anniversary section.

The inside story of FFRF’s founding

A timeline of FFRF’s history

40 years of photos

Testimonials from FFRF’s honorary board members

Four decades of court victories

Memorable legal cases that got away . . .

Dan Barker: Speaking of atheism . . .

Join FFRF in San Francisco from Nov. 2-4

Join the Freedom From Religion Foundation in San Francisco for its 41st annual convention from Nov. 2-4 at the beautiful downtown Hyatt Regency. 

The conference hotel features dramatic architecture, panoramic views and a waterfront setting, directly across from the iconic Ferry Building. If you’ve got some free time during the convention, you can explore the vibrant Embarcadero district, or head a bit further to explore famous attractions like Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, or ride the ferry to Alcatraz.

The Hyatt features the world’s largest hotel lobby at 17 stories tall with 42,000 cubic feet of space. Each room features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking cityscapes or the San Francisco Bay and comes with complimentary Wi-Fi.

Hotel reservations

Reserve rooms now to avoid disappointment! Rooms (at $230 plus tax) are being held for Friday and Saturday nights, and a slightly more limited number for Thursday. Phone directly to make your reservations: 1-888-421-1442 and use the code “Freedom From Religion Foundation.” Or go online at ffrf.org/convention2018 for full convention information or reserve hotel rooms directly at bit.ly/FFRF2018.


FFRF registration, always a deal, is only $60 per member, $65 per companion, $110 non-member, and free for students and children. Take advantage of FFRF’s meal and registration package (see order form below, including Saturday Nonprayer Breakfast plus the Saturday Banquet Dinner) to save $20 (and get a chance to socialize with other members). Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch are on your own. The menus for the two Saturday meals (with veggie, vegan and gluten-free options) are:

Breakfast — Chef’s bakery selection, scrambled eggs, Hobb’s bacon, breakfast potatoes, juice and coffee.

Dinner — Potage Parmentier (potato leek soup), crispy shallots, chive crème fraiche, Champagne brown butter chicken, tarragon mushroom fond, Cipollini onion and Comte risotto, steamed broccolini, French pear tart, frangipane, vanilla cream.

Register now!

General schedule

Arrange your travel schedule for the convention’s expanded hours and to take in a little sightseeing as well. The official starting time is 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, continuing through Saturday night. FFRF’s membership and state representative meetings take place Sunday morning with a noon adjournment.

The convention will include irreverent music, complimentary appetizers on Friday afternoon and a complimentary Friday night dessert reception, plus the popular drawing for “clean” (pre-“In God We Trust”) currency on Saturday night.

Sign up at: ffrf.org/convention2018.

40th anniversary: Photos from our special issue

40th anniversary: Timeline of FFRF’s history

View the rest of the special 40th anniversary section.


  • ‘Pray on your own time.’ FFRF starts a regional group to combat governmental prayer (Dane County, Wis.).
  • First FFRF lawsuit: Feds order USPS nationwide to stop issuing religious-themed cancellations.
  • Annie Laurie Gaylor stops 122-year commence-ment prayer abuse at University of Wisconsin-Madison.



  • ‘Angels off public payroll.’ FFRF ends school funding of nativity pageant at Wisconsin Capitol.
  • John Sontarck, FFRF’s original third founding member, dies.



  • FFRF goes national!
  • Convention speakers: Supreme Court victors Vashti McCollum,  Roy Torcaso.
  • FFRF pickets Catholic Church.


  • First paid employee (part-time): Sheila Thompson.
  • First student essay contest established.
  • FFRF removes cross from Terry Andrae (Wis.) State Park.
  • Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor appear on NBC’s ‘Tom Snyder Show.’


  • FFRF publishes first bible warning label.
  • FFRF publishes first book: The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, by Ruth Hurmence Green.
  • ‘Phooey on Falwell’ FFRF picket.
  • First FFRF T-shirt!
  • First FFRF film: ‘A Second Look at Religion.’
  • FFRF rents first office.


  • Anne Gaylor joins paid staff.
  • July 7, Ruth Green dies. Writes: ‘Freedom depends upon freethinkers.’
  • FFRF’s second book: Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, by Annie Laurie Gaylor.


  • Gaylor v. Reagan lawsuit filed against ‘Year of the Bible.’ Judge James Doyle rips Congress over Year of Bible, won’t enjoin it.
  • FFRF’s airs its first TV show, ‘Freethought Forum.’
  • FFRF publishes third book: Lead Us Not Into Penn Station, by Anne Gaylor.


  • Intro issue, Freethought Today, debuts in September.
  • Anne choked by anti-abortion woman after TV show in Philadelphia.
  • Four-city TV tour over Year of Bible.
  • Anne Gaylor on CNN’s ‘Crossfire.
  • FFRF puts up first bus ads: ‘The bible: A grim fairy tale.’


  • FFRF sues and wins over UW-Madison religious recruiting.
  • Launches ‘Christians Anonymous’ hotline.
  • Newspaper headline: ‘Anne Gaylor, Lightning Rod.’
  • Oprah Winfrey features FFRF on TV show with guests Anne, Annie Laurie, Dan Barker & Rita Bell.
  • FFRF solstice signs on city buses.


  • Dan Barker’s first of 130 debates for FFRF takes place in Nashville.
  • Wisconsin state Senate (briefly) drops paid prayers after FFRF requests equal time.
  • FFRF moves to more spacious office.
  • FFRF sues over La Crosse Ten Commandments, Part I.
  • First ex-clergy panel at FFRF’s Minneapolis convention.
  • Isaac Asimov speaks at N.J. Chapter event.


  • FFRF sues to halt Illinois State Chapel suggested by Pat Robertson.
  • Wisconsin attorney general rules against pre-game prayer.
  • FFRF’s first TV commercial, starring Sheila (Thompson) Jensen.


  • Butterfly McQueen becomes 22nd FFRF Lifetime Member.
  • FFRF’s second TV commercial featuring Dan Barker airs in Honolulu, Madison, Wis., and Jefferson City, Mo. Censored elsewhere.
  • Dan’s ‘Stay Away Pope Polka’ airs in all U.S. cities pope visits.
  • Media includes ‘Sally Jessy Raphael,’ Boston People Are Talking, Detroit’s ‘Kelly & Co.’


  • Second FFRF film, ‘Champions of the First Amendment,’ debuts.
  • FFRF publishes Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children by Dan Barker.
  • FFRF publishes Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children by Annie Laurie Gaylor.


  • Media: ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘700 Club,’ ‘Donahue.’
  • Anne Gaylor wins Gaylor v. Hanaway lawsuit.
  • Bible-free hotel room request gets international coverage.
  • Butterfly McQueen at FFRF’s convention in Atlanta.
  • FFRF sues over Ten Commandments at Colorado state Capitol.


  • FFRF complaint closes infamous Baptist home for children.
  • Alabama FFRF chapter protests Cheaha State Park Chapel.
  • FFRF moves into Freethought Hall, a two-story building in Madison, Wis., thanks to kind donors. (See painting, above.)
  • Jack Kevorkian speaks at annual convention.


  • FFRF sues over Waunakee, Wis.,  crèche.
  • FFRF mentioned in Tom Robbins’ novel, Skinny Legs and All.
  • ‘Portrait of an Atheist’ about Catherine Fahringer in San Antonio Express-News.
  • Probable cause found, FFRF’s ethics complaint over Alabama Gov. H. Guy Hunt.


  • FFRF asks Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl for ‘equal time’ invocation. No go.
  • FFRF publishes Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith.
  • July 4: Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall Grand Opening.
  • FFRF proclaims Oct. 12 ‘Freethought Day.’
  • Catherine Fahringer flies FFRF banners over San Antonio.


  • FFRF asks Sen. Russ  Feingold to permit Barker invocation. No go.
  • FFRF wins suit: Denver mayor enjoined from proclaiming day of prayer.
  • ‘Religion is the problem’ banner flies during pope’s visit in Colorado.
  • FFRF reissues One Woman’s Fight by Vashti McCollum.


  • FFRF stops federal money for Our Lady of the Rockies.
  • FFRF challenges ‘In God We Trust’ motto.
  • FFRF holds ‘Good without God’ event for schoolkids.


  • FFRF’s Alabama chapter sues Roy Moore. 
  • Butterfly McQueen dies Dec. 22.


  • Supreme Court refuses FFRF appeal over ‘In God We Trust’ suit.
  • FFRF lawsuit overturns Good Friday holiday.
  • First-ever atheist sign goes up in Wisconsin state Capitol.
  • FFRF publishes first anthology of women freethinkers, edited by Annie Laurie  Gaylor.


  • FFRF wins second Wisconsin Good Friday suit.
  • FFRF sues over papal shrine in Cherry Creek Park, Colorado.


  • FFRF files suit challenging Wisconsin subsidy to Catholic schools.
  • Partial victory by FFRF over Marshfield (Wis.) Jesus shrine.


  • FFRF’s World Famous Atheist Cookbook debuts.
  • First Atheists in Foxholes Award was dedicated on July 4 at Lake Hypatia. Grand opening of new auditorium.
  • Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg receives the first Emperor Has No Clothes Award.


  • FFRF prevails in Marshfield, Wis., shrine case; shrine may not stay on public land.
  • FFRF lawsuit with minister stops public funding to assist clergy to develop marriage standards.


  • ‘Friendly Neighborhood Atheist’ music CD released by FFRF.
  • FFRF wins before appeals court, stopping direct internet subsidy to parochial schools.
  • FFRF gets city of Milwaukee to remove first Eagles Ten Commandments monument placed on public property (see photo at right).


  • FFRF wins first court victory in nation against faith-based funding (Faith Works of Milwaukee).
  • ‘Scopes II’ FFRF victory halts illegal bible instruction in Rhea County, Tenn.


  • FFRF sues Montana over merger with faith health co-op. First of 10 victorious court cases against the faith-based initiative handled by outside counsel Rich Bolton.


  • FFRF prevails in second challenge of La Crosse Ten Commandments. (Final win, 2005.)
  • FFRF wins lawsuit against faith-based funding in Montana health co-op case.


  • FFRF wins first court victory halting funding in progress under faith-based initiative, Mentorkids USA (Ariz.).
  • Barker represents atheism at World Religions Conference.
  • Media include ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, CNN, national CBS.
  • Dr. Oliver Sacks receives 2005 Emperor Has No Clothes Award.


  • FFRF’s winning challenge of Faith-based Office at White House, Cabinets appealed to Supreme Court.
  • Julia Sweeney performs ‘Letting Go of God’ at annual convention.
  • FFRF publishes Rhymes for the Irreverent by Yip Harburg with Yip Harburg Foundation.


  • Freethought Radio, which debuted in 2006, goes national, on 30 stations over Air America.
  • Media includes national AP, USA Today, ‘CBS Evening News,’ C-Span, CNN, ‘ABC World News,’ Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  • Plurality opinion in Hein v. FFRF denies FFRF right to sue over Cabinet faith-based offices.
  • FFRF places first billboards after 3 decades of censorship. 


  • FFRF accepted for Combined Federal Campaign.
  • Ron Reagan, Janeane Garafalo, Julia Sweeney record radio ads for FFRF.
  • FFRF, with kind donor help, places first ad in New York Times.
  • FFRF places billboards in 13 states!
  • FFRF hires first attorney, Rebecca (Kratz) Markert, who writes 200 complaint letters.


  • FFRF has eight staffers.
  • FFRF Darwin billboard goes up, covered by Rachel Maddow.
  • FFRF runs first bus signs in 20 years: ‘Sleep in on Sundays.’
  • Media includes CNN, Colbert’s ‘The Word’ segment, Canalplus French TV.
  • 20th anniversary 4th of July celebration at Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall.
  • Honorary Board starts.


  • FFRF has 10 full-time staff, including two attorneys, who sent 300 complaint letters.
  • FFRF wins first round of National Day of Prayer challenge. FFRF runs many ads capitalizing on the victory.
  • 700 attend convention headlined by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
  • Billboard blitz includes over 100 billboards.
  • Third essay contest, for grad students, funded by Brian Bolton.


  • FFRF has 13 full-time staff.
  • FFRF sues over Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s proclaimed ‘day of fasting and prayer.’
  • 90+ state/church victories, 495 letters of complaint.
  • ‘Out of the Closet’ billboard campaigns take place in North Carolina, Arizona.


  • Richard Dawkins gets the Emperor Has No Clothes Award.
  • FFRF speaks at Reason Rally, Global Atheist Conference in Australia.
  • FFRF issues third music CD by Barker, ‘Adrift on a Star.’
  • FFRF places first national TV ads on ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ and ‘CBS Evening News.’
  • JFK ad & ad with Julia Sweeney against Catholic bishops runs 1,000 times.
  • Grace Quiroz wins billboard contest.


  • FFRF has 14 full-time employees, including five attorneys.
  • Steven Pinker, one of ‘100 most influential people in world’ (TIME), becomes FFRF’s first honorary president.
  • Groundbreaking for expanded Freethought Hall.
  • FFRF and Sacramento chapter place 55 ‘Out of the Closet’ billboards!


  • Media: Sean Hannity, Fox TV, ‘CBS This Morning’.
  • Ron Reagan records TV ad for FFRF that  runs on Comedy Central, censored by NBC, ABC, CBS, Discovery.
  • 150 state/church victories.
  • FFRF files amicus with Marci Hamilton against Hobby Lobby anti-contraception case.


  • Anne Nicol Gaylor, principal founder, dies June 2015.
  • 400 attend grand opening of expanded Freethought Hall.
  • Media include CNN, ‘CBS This Morning.’
  • FFRF starts fourth essay contest, for students of color.
  • FFRF Board creates Nonbelief Relief charity.
  • Attorneys send 1,186 formal complaint letters, have 241 victories.


  • FFRF refurbishes statue to Great Agnostic Robert Ingersoll in Peoria park, with help from Zenos Frudakis.
  • Attorneys write 1,050 complaint letters, earn 230 victories.
  • FFRF’s PR campaign: ‘I’m an atheist and I vote.’
  • FFRF wins inaugural Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award.


  • FFRF has 24 staffers.
  • FFRF starts Educate Congress campaign (thanks to Stephen Uhl)
  • FFRF Commissions, creates Clarence Darrow statue by Zenos Frudakis, for lawn of ‘Monkey Trial’ courthouse in Rhea Co., Tenn., to balance the  historical record.


  • FFRF reaches 32,000 members, 25 staffers.
  • ‘Freethought Matters’ TV show debuts.
  • Freethought Today also goes mobile friendly, online.
  • Co-creates Avijit Roy Memorial Award.


40th anniversary testimonials from FFRF honorary board members

One might think that the legal defenders of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the U.S. Constitution would be grim warriors or killjoy legal sharks. Nothing could be further from the Freedom of Religion Foundation! With humor, humanity — and an unshaking commitment to freedom of and from religion — the Foundation has strengthened our Constitution and kept America at the forefront of Enlightenment values.

Steven Pinker
FFRF Honorary President

Harvard’s Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology. Author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason and The Blank Slate.

Congratulations to FFRF for 40 years of indefatigable work propping up the constitutional wall between church and state — a wall that many constantly seek to dismantle. Of all the secular organizations in America, I think FFRF is the best, because they don’t just talk, but also walk the legal walk. In view of all they’ve done, I’m tremendously proud to be a supporter and a member of their honorary board. 

Jerry Coyne

Honorary FFRF Director

Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago. Author of Why Evolution Is True and Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation restores my faith in the goodness of Americans. Congratulations, FFRF, on your 40th anniversary.

Richard Dawkins

Honorary FFRF Director

Evolutionary Biologist. Author of The God Delusion.

Congratulations, FFRF, on 40 years of providing escape routes for people trapped in their religions! Your legal activities have protected us all from the theocratic urges of many congregations and church leaders. But even more important, FFRF has helped doubters step into the daylight of a secular life. Above all, you have done this without lies and trickery, without exaggeration or insinuation: You have exposed the facts and let them speak for themselves. Well done, and keep it up!

Daniel C. Dennett

Honorary FFRF Director

Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University. Author of Breaking the Spell, Freedom Evolves and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

America’s Founding Figures were thinkers thoroughly influenced by the European Enlightenment. If all Americans were as imbued with the spirit of the Enlightenment as our Founders were, we would have no need for an organization so tirelessly and effectively trying to keep the country true to the original vision. So, congratulations to FFRF on your 40th anniversary. I wish we didn′t need you so desperately, but, alas, we do.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Honorary FFRF Director

MacArthur Fellow; 2015 National Humanities Medal Honoree. Author of Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction.

Now hear this: The Pew Research Center reports a growing share of U.S. adults who say belief in God is NOT necessary to have good values or be moral: In 2011, about 48 percent agreed, but in 2017, 56 percent agreed. The trend in the 21st century is to adopt a more secular basis for moral values. Hurrah, FFRF.

Ernie Harburg

Honorary FFRF Director

Scientist, Director of The Yip Harburg Foundation.

I am particularly proud to be associated with the work of the Freedom from Religion Foundation because of its emphasis on programs designed to reach, and use the talents of, freethinking young people. FFRF has been exemplary in lending support to secular young people who often feel very alone in many parts of this nation.

Susan Jacoby

Honorary FFRF Director

Author of The Age of Unreason in a Culture of Lies, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll.

If you have had it up to here with faith-based initiatives, creationism and clerical prying into our private lives, FFRF is the organization for you. This scrappy group brings lawsuits against church-state entanglements and puts up witty billboards and bus signs promoting, well, freedom from religion.

Katha Pollitt

Honorary FFRF Director

Columnist, Subject to Debate, The Nation, essayist, poet. Author most recently of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

For 40 intrepid years, FFRF has been the principled voice and activist vanguard for those of us who care passionately about preserving the separation of church and state that is so fundamental to our democracy. Let me put it plainly: If Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Paine were alive today, they would be proud to be supporters of FFRF.  And so would Elizabeth Cady Stanton!

Robin Morgan

Honorary FFRF Director

Editor, Ms. (1989-1994), Co-Founder, Women’s Media Center. Author of Sisterhood is Powerful and Fighting Words.

One would have hoped 40 years on that the FFRF would be a quaint anachronism by now, long past its utility, like a ‘Let’s keep flat-earth science out of the classroom’ society.  Instead, its goals have never been more relevant.  Thank you, FFRF, and keep up the good, brave fight.

Robert Sapolsky

Honorary FFRF Director

Professor of biology, neurology and neurological sciences, Standard University. Author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

How can we continue our pursuit of happiness when organized religion is always standing in the way? For 40 years the FFRF has been trying to get it to stand aside, and I’m very grateful.

Edward Sorel

Honorary FFRF Director

Artist, illustrator and author. Regular contributor to: The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The Nation.

40th anniversary: Memorable cases that got away . . .

Gaylor v. Reagan

FFRF sued when Congress proclaimed 1983 as ‘The Year of the Bible.’ The judge considered the case was not ripe until Reagan signed it, but moot after he signed it. The lawsuit commanded major headlines, TV talk shows and interviews for FFRF about what’s wrong with the bible being part of U.S. law. The lawsuit delayed the signing of the proclamation, whose wording was weaker than originally proposed.

‘FFRF v. Pat Robertson’

In 1986, FFRF, with Illinois member Steve Van Zandt, filed a federal lawsuit to stop the building of a chapel at the Illinois statehouse. The chapel had been suggested during a visit by TV evangelist Pat Robertson. In December 1986, FFRF won its lawsuit at the trial level, with a strong, eloquent decision. In January 1988, the appeals court inexplicably ruled that the prayer room had a ‘secular purpose.’ The silver lining: the chapel was never used.

La Crosse Ten Commandments

FFRF sued over a Ten Commandments monument in a park in La Crosse, Wis., donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, in a case garnering national exposure. FFRF’s attorney deposed the Eagles official behind the project, learning that these unconstitutional monuments were one giant advertising scheme for director Cecil B. DeMille and an Eagles member seeking to promote Minnesota granite. Even though Phyllis Grams, a lifelong resident and daughter of a former member of Congress, was found not to have standing in 1987, the case was successfully revisited by FFRF with 22 local plaintiffs. The city divested itself of the monument and land under it.

Grams, a schoolteacher, testified that when she received crank calls and death threats, she would fearlessly reply, ‘Tell me more!’

Hein decision

In a case filed in 2004, when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was still on the court, FFRF challenged President Bush’s creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, as well as eight cabinet-level ‘offices of faith-based initiatives.’ FFRF asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit to reinstate its right to sue over the faith-based offices. In January 2006, in a 2-1 decision written by Judge Richard A. Posner, FFRF won the right to continue its suit. Posner compared the creation of the faith-based offices to the Secretary of Homeland Security hypothetically deciding ‘to build a mosque and pay an imam a salary to preach in it because the secretary believed that federal financial assistance to Islam would reduce the likelihood of Islamist terrorism in the United States.’

Bush appealed FFRF’s win to the U.S. Supreme Court, by then lacking O’Connor. In a 5-4 plurality ruling on June 25, 2007, FFRF lost its right to sue the executive branch over the faith-based offices. FFRF did win the plurality opinion, with four justices solidly in our camp.

The dissent, written by Justice Souter and signed by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Stevens, noted: ‘If the executive could accomplish through the exercise of discretion exactly what Congress cannot do through legislation, Establishment Clause protection would melt away.’

National Day of Prayer

FFRF sued over a 1952 federal law, passed at the behest of Billy Graham, requiring the president to exhort citizens to ‘turn to God in prayer, at churches’ during an annual day of prayer. FFRF’s attorney Richard L. Bolton noted that the National Day of Prayer Taskforce, which was also named in the suit, was working hand in glove with the government and that evangelicals had essentially hijacked the event.

40th anniversary: Four decades of court victories

FFRF’s current legal team includes (front row, from left) constitutional attorneys Andrew Seidel, Elizabeth Cavell, Patrick Elliott, Legal Director Rebecca Markert, (back row, from left) Legal Assistant Whitney Steffen and constitutional attorneys Colin McNamara, Madeline Ziegler, Ryan Jayne, Sam Grover and Chris Line.

When education alone is not successful, and the circumstances are either egregious or the facts particularly promising, we go to court. FFRF has filed and completed well over 70 lawsuits, with a dozen ongoing and more in the planning stages, winning about two-thirds to date. FFRF couldn’t do it without its all-important local plaintiffs, who deserve an ovation!

Here is a recap of FFRF’s successful litigation over the years:


Anne Gaylor v. United States Post Office

Federal lawsuit forces USPS to suspend nationwide religious cancellations for St. Vincent de Paul. Attorney: Karla Dobinski.


FFRF, Jon Foust, Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor v. University of Wisconsin

FFRF got the university to stop asking for and giving student contact info to area churches and campus ministries. Attorney: Richard Jacobson.


FFRF, Colorado Chapter of FFRF, Robert Fenn and Lee Whitfield v. City and County of Denver

Successfully enjoined the Denver mayor’s office from co-sponsoring a Day of Prayer against Violence on Dec. 5, 1993. Attorney: Robert R. Tiernan.

Alabama Freethought Society, Roger Cleveland v. Alabama State Parks

State park system agreed to take down crosses, remove ‘chapel’ title from buildings and state maps, and give groups ‘first come-first service’ rights. Attorney: ACLU; Pamela Sumners.


Alabama Freethought Society, Gloria Hersheiser, Al Faulkenberry  v. Judge Roy Moore

The chapter and members in Gadsden sued Moore as county judge for inflicting prayers on juries and erecting a Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom. Won, thrown out on technicality in 1998 after interference of governor. Attorney: ACLU; Joel Sogol.


FFRF, Anne & Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker, Samuel M. and Jennifer Essak, Richard Uttke and Michael Hakeem v. Tommy Thompson & John E. Litscher

FFRF overturned Wisconsin’s Good Friday holiday mandating worship between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Good Friday and closing government offices at noon. Attorney: Jeffrey Kassel.

FFRF, Alan and Mary Porath, Floyd Olson, Esther Mattson v. Ozaukee County

FFRF mopped up its Good Friday victory to force county offices to stay open. Attorney: Jeffrey Kassel.


Julie Wells and Jeff Baysinger v. Lochhead

Challenge of shrine commemorating mass by Pope John Paul II during his 1993 appearance at Cherry Creek State Park removes religious phrases, image of boy praying and pope blessing someone. Attorney: Robert R. Tiernan.


FFRF and Clarence Reinders v. City of Marshfield, Wis.

Challenge of statue of Jesus with words ‘Christ Guide Us on Our Way’ in public park resulted in city selling land with shrine to Knights of Columbus, which had gifted shrine. Appeals court ruled sale did not remedy violation of shrine in public park, ordering erection of wall or fence with visible disclaimer. Attorneys: varied.

FFRF, Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker and Rev. Charles Wolfe v. Joe Leean and Susan Dreyfus

Nationally watched law to create and fund state coordinator to ‘assist’ clergy to develop ‘community-wide standards of marriage,’ ruled unconstitutional. Attorney: James Friedman.


FFRF, Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker v. Mark D. Bugher, et al.

Appeals court upheld lower court ruling in favor of FFRF that direct cash grants to religious schools to reimburse them for internet linkage access is unconstitutional. Attorney: James Friedman.


FFRF, Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker v.  Scott McCallum, et al.

FFRF wins first fully adjudicated federal lawsuit challenging direct funding of a faith-based agency, Faith Works, a Milwaukee group dedicated to bringing ‘homeless addicts to Christ.’ Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.


John Doe, Mary Roe & FFRF v. Sue Porter, Rhea Co. Board of Education

The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 51 years of bible instruction in Rhea Co. (Dayton, Tenn.) schools unconstitutional in ‘Scopes II,’ a practice started after the Scopes Trial. Attorney: Alvin Harris.

FFRF, Edith Paxman, Ron Calvert, James Soular v. Montana Office of Rural Health

FFRF successfully challenges funding and merger of two Montana state offices with the ‘Montana Faith-Health Cooperative.’ Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.


Sue Mercier, Hank Zumach, FFRF & 20 others v. City of La Crosse, Wis.

In Round II of FFRF’s challenge of Ten Commandments marker in a public park in La Crosse, Wis., 22 individuals of no and various religious persuasions became plaintiffs. Following the suit, the city sold a small parcel of the park containing the marker to the Eagles, which had gifted the decalog originally. The city and Eagles were represented by Pat Robertson’s legal group. A resounding ruling by District Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled against this sweetheart sale as a remedy. The appeals court approved the sale, but demanded more fences and disclaimers. Attorney: James Friedman.

FFRF, Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker v. Jim Towey, Director of White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives

Lawsuit forced HHS to discontinue funding MentorKids or other faith-based mentoring groups. Mentorkids USA was an offshoot of Watergate felon Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries. Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.

FFRF v. U.S. Department of Education

Federal funds of $435,000 earmarked for Alaska Christian College, an unaccredited bible college with 31 students run by Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska, plus funds from previous grant were suspended. Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.


FFRF, 7 Minnesota members v. University of Minnesota

Minnesota agreed to drop plans to sponsor a ‘faith health leadership course’ and to remove itself from a ‘faith health consortium’ intended to be a national model. Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.

FFRF, Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker v. Gonzales

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, following FFRF’s suit, dropped plans to set up ‘single-faith’ residential re-entry programs at one or more piloted institutions. Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.


FFRF, Craig Gosling, John Kiel, Sean O’Brian and Diana O’Brian v. Indiana Family and Social Services

Suit ends first chaplaincy for state workers in nation, hiring pastor to bring ‘faith into the workplace’ for state employees in Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration. State abolished chaplaincy and fired chaplain, ending suit. Attorney: James Friedman and co-counsel.

FFRF, Doe, Doe Child, Roe, Roe Children, Zoe v. Cherry Creek School District

Challenged program, ‘40 Developmental Assets,’ linked to the Lutheran Brotherhood, including Asset 19 urging child to spend ‘one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.’ District agreed to add ‘secular (nonreligious)’ to the asset. Attorney: Robert R. Tiernan.


FFRF, Gail and Wayne Vann, Taku Ronsman, Wendy Coriell, et. al, v. City of Green Bay, Wis.

Suit dismissed after city agreed not to continue putting a manger scene atop the entrance of city hall in Green Bay, Wis. Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.

FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor & Dan Barker v. State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Suit forces Rio (Wis.) school district to comply with state constitution and charge rent for after-school Child Evangelism Fellowship Group; CEF stops meeting in schools, case dismissed. Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.

FFRF v. Manitowoc County

Suit over nativity scene at Wisconsin county courthouse ends in Catholic group moving crèche to private land, although technically county agreed to public forum allowing nonreligous views. Attorneys: Richard L. Bolton; Rebecca Markert.


Doe 1 and Doe 2 v. School Board of Giles County

Suit removed display of Ten Commandments on wall of district school, resulting in victorious federal court ruling. Attorneys: Rebecca Glenberg, Frank M. Feibelman (with ACLU of Virginia), Patrick C. Elliott.

FFRF. v. Town of Whiteville, Tennessee

Suit over cross atop water tower, and crosses in front of City Hall and on city-owned sidewalk results in removal of one arm of cross atop water tower and injunction against installing crosses on city hall property. Attorney: Alvin Harris.


Doe 1, 2, 3 v. Jackson City (Ohio) School District

Lawsuit removes painting of Jesus from middle school in Jackson, Ohio. ACLU attorneys James L. Hardiman, Michael Honohan; Rebecca S. Markert.

FFRF, Sari Dworkin v. City of Pismo Beach

City halts all prayer and abolishes position of ‘city chaplain,’ whose prayers had cited Christian bible more than 88 times. Attorneys: Pamela Koslyn, Andrew L. Seidel.


Douglas Marshall v. City of Warren, Mich.

Michigan city forced to permit Marshall, an FFRF member, to install a ‘reason station’ in City Hall atrium to counter ‘prayer station.’ Attorneys: FFRF, Americans United and ACLU.

FFRF v. Koskinen

FFRF sues IRS for failing to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches. Settlement reached when IRS showed it had flagged churches involved with political intervention and filled position to oversee such investigations. FFRF can renew lawsuit if IRS reverts to previous inaction. Attorney: Richard L. Bolton.

Matthew Nielson, et. al. v. School District Five of Lexington, S.C.

South Carolina students sued over graduation prayer, district agreed to stop. Attorney: Aaron J. Kozloski, Patrick Elliott.


FFRF, Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, David Williamson v. Orange County (Fla.) School Board

Suit over censorship of freethought materials, while allowing unfettered distribution of Christian bible in Orange County schools, ends with district suspending bible distributions. Attorneys: Jerry H. Jeffery, Steven M. Brady, Andrew L. Seidel.

FFRF, Patrick Elliott v. Wisconsin Office of Commissioner of Insurance

FFRF sued over open records violations for withholding information related to decision not to enforce Wisconsin’s contraceptive mandate, which court ordered provided to it. Attorney: Christa Westerberg.

FFRF, Jane, John, Jesse & Jamie Doe v. Emanuel County School System

Suit stopped pre-lunchtime prayers inflicted on elementary students, reprisal against children not praying. Attorneys: W.R. Nichols, Samuel T. Grover and Andrew L. Seidel.

FFRF, Doe 4, Doe 5 v. Connellsville (Pa.) Area School District

Suit removes Ten Commandments monolith in front of district’s junior high school, which, judge rules, ‘runs afoul of the Establishment Clause.’ Attorney: Marcus B. Schneider, with help from Patrick Elliott.


FFRF, Antelope Valley Freethinkers and David Dionne v. Antelope Valley (Calif.) Union High School District

Compels school district to publicize scholarships for atheist students, not just Christian students. Attorneys: David Kaloyanides, Andrew Seidel and Madeline Ziegler.

FFRF, Kevin Price and Jesse Castillo v. Brewster County, Texas

Suit promptly removes Christian cross decals from county patrol vehicles, despite governor’s vow to fight FFRF. Attorneys: Randall Kallinen, Sam Grover, Patrick Elliott.

FFRF, Steve Kristoff, Renana Gross v. Franklin County, Ind.

Two rounds: FFRF sued over prominent nativity display in front of courthouse. County turned area into public forum, with FFRF withdrawing challenge. When county censored FFRF display, FFRF went back to court; judge ordered that nonreligious displays be permitted, county closed forum altogether. Attorneys: ACLU Gavin M. Rose of ACLU of Indiana; Sam Grover and Rebecca Markert.

FFRF and Jerome H. Bloom v. City of Shelton, Conn.

City allowed American Legion angel display, but censored FFRF’s solstice display. In response to suit, city closed forum in Constitution Park, including angel display, permitted FFRF to place display in Huntingtown Park, where there was a Christian nativity. Attorneys: Elizabeth Cavell, Ryan Jayne, Laurence J. Cohen.


FFRF, Marie Schaub, Doe 1, Doe 2, Doe 3 v. New Kensington-Arnold (Pa.) School District

Five-year epic battle removed 6-foot, 2-ton Ten Commandments monument from Valley High School, New Kensington, Pa. Attorney: Marcus B. Schneider, with help from Patrick Elliott.

FFRF, Andrew DeFaria v. City of Santa Clara, Calif.

Sued city after waiting four years for them to remove 14-foot cross from public park marking site of second Spanish Catholic mission. City removed cross. Attorneys: Rebecca Markert, Madeline Ziegler, David Kalyonides.

Additionally, FFRF has won Round I of eight pending cases, including:

Halting prayer by school board in Chino Valley, Calif; finding Brevard County (Fla.) discriminated by not allowing nontheistic invocation; ending a live nativity pageant in Elkhart, Ind., public schools; finding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unlawfully censored FFRF’s Bill of Rights nativity display; finding the IRS clergy housing allowance privilege unconstitutional; finding a 30-foot cross in a Pensacola public park unconstitutional; finding a Latin cross on the county seal in Lehigh, Pa., unconstitutional; and ending biblical instruction in elementary schools in Mercer Co., W. Va.

40th anniversary: Dan Barker — Speaking of atheism . . .

By Dan Barker

When I gave my very first talk at the FFRF convention in Milwaukee in 1984 — the same year I

Dan Barker

came out of the ministry — I mentioned to Annie Laurie Gaylor that maybe this would help me earn some reverse-penance after 19 years of preaching the false hope of the gospel. Well, 34 years later, I think I can say, ‘Mission accomplished!’

During that time, I have had the great honor of speaking for FFRF in at least a thousand events in almost all 50 states and more than a dozen foreign countries. About half of those were on college campuses. Many were at UU Fellowships, Ethical Culture Societies, regional humanist, rationalist, atheist, skeptic, freethought groups, and even in a few churches. I was invited to tell my preacher-to-atheist story, but also to explain why I now work for a group that keeps state and church separate. I cannot count how many freethought concerts at the piano I’ve performed. (Unitarians are the best audience!) I especially enjoyed getting to know the struggling but vibrant freethought/humanist groups in countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Cameroon.

I think I now hold a world record: To date, I have done 130 public moderated debates with theists, mostly on the topic ‘Does God Exist?,’ but also on morality, the resurrection of Jesus, the bible, the afterlife, and state/church separation. My opponents have been mainly conservative and evangelical Christians — such as Norman Geisler, Richard Swinburne, and the now-disgraced Dinesh D’Souza — but I have also debated liberal theologians, theistic philosophers, rabbis, Muslim apologists and even a Hindu Vedic astrologer.

My favorite debate was for the Oxford Union in 2012, where we wore tuxedos with bow ties and toasted the queen before Peter Millican, Michael Shermer and I went against Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher), mathematician John Lennox and an Anglican priest on the proposition, ‘This house believes in God.’ Richard Dawkins was in the audience. After the debate, the moderator asked the people to ‘vote with your feet.’ Those in favor of the proposition exited through one door, and those agreeing with the opposition exited through another. The results: 143 for the proposition and 168 for the opposition. According to Oxford University, the atheists won! There is no God.

I can’t estimate the number of TV and radio interviews Anne Gaylor, Annie Laurie and I have done for FFRF. My first appearance on the national “Phil Donahue Show” in 1988 garnered more than 2,000 letters and phone calls in a pre-email era, giving our membership a huge boost. My appearance on the national “Oprah Winfrey Show” was followed by invitations to the “Sally Jessy Raphael Show,” “The Daily Show” (twice), Morton Downey Jr., Maury Povich, “Good Morning America” (twice), many Fox News shows (such as ‘Fox and Friends,’ Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham), and “Religion and News Weekly” on PBS. I even enjoyed being thrown off the Eric Bolling show on Fox Business Network one December. But I think my favorite appearances were on national television in Guatemala and Honduras, where I truly got to do some reverse-missionary penance, in Spanish, for those years I preached in Latin America.

One thing I was surprised to learn is that I truly enjoy speaking before a ‘hostile’ audience, starting with that first appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s ‘AM Chicago’ in 1984, where I first met Anne and Annie Laurie. It is much more fun (and important) than preaching! Once a preacher, always a preacher, I guess. A local Baptist minister stood up in the audience at one of my debates and yelled ‘Blasphemy!’ I thanked him for the compliment. During First Amendment Week at the University of Iowa, someone went backstage and turned off my microphone while I was talking about free speech. Annie Laurie and I once drove to a private college in Minnesota where we had been invited by students to talk about FFRF, only to find that the administration had locked the doors and cancelled the event. The Westboro Baptist Church once protested outside one of my debates, which I considered a real honor.

It is satisfying to see the growth and success of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We are now in a strong position to continue spreading the ‘good news’ of freethought and secularism.

Dan Barker is FFRF co-president.

40th anniversary: The inside story of FFRF’s founding

Cover of FFRF’s 40th anniversary section.

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

This April marks the 40th anniversary of the national founding of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. FFRF actually began as a regional group two years prior. My mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, then a well-known feminist activist, and I, a college student, were dismayed to learn that local governmental bodies were opening with Christian prayers and decided we’d better do something about it.

Thinking it would seem rather weak to go before the Madison City Council and the Dane County (Wis.) Board merely as a mother-daughter team, we decided we’d identify ourselves as part of a group. We’d been bandying about the concept that freedom of religion necessarily encompasses the right to be free from religion. Anne coined what is now an oft-repeated phrase: There can be no true religious liberty without the freedom to dissent.

That’s the short story of how the Freedom From Religion Foundation was born. An elderly Milwaukee gentleman, John Sontarck, learned of our new venture and agreed to lend his name and moral support, becoming the third member of our nascent group (although, sadly, he died within the year).

A reporter at The Capital Times covered our appeal to a county committee on June 21, 1976. Ed Bark reported: ‘The Dane County Board’s Judiciary Committee didn’t exactly tell Anne Gaylor to go to the devil when she requested the board cease opening its meetings with a prayer Monday night. But several committee members informed her the proposed ban stands a snowball’s chance in hell of being approved . . . 

‘Gaylor told the slightly bemused committee that: ‘It is not the business of governmental bodies to pray. When board members pray publicly, you inflict pressure, compulsion and embarrassment on those of your members and those of your audience who do not accept or share these private religious views.’ ’

After reminding committee members that the Constitution is a ‘godless’ document designed to eliminate entanglements of church and state, Anne suggested they open instead with a reading from the Constitution ‘with special attention to the First Amendment.’ My suggestion that the board ‘pray on your own time’ became the news story’s banner headline. We ended our remarks by thanking the committee for not opening with a prayer. One of the committee members responded: ‘Amen.’

We went on to address the Madison City Council over its equally inappropriate prayer. Despite Bark’s prophecy, and although it took about a year, the city council dropped prayer altogether. The county board dropped explicit prayers, adopting rotating opening remarks by local alderpersons.

That fall, I ended the 122-year abuse of commencement prayers at UW-Madison. With knocking knees, I nervously went before the senior class officers. To my pleasant surprise, the students beamed as I pointed out the inappropriateness of a state university inflicting prayers on a diversity of students of every and no religion. They agreed with me, and the chancellor, rumored to be an agnostic, agreed with them. Within a month, the prayers were halted at the midterm commencements and from that point on.

As the timeline starting at the bottom of each page shows, within the first two years, we had a number of major successes, including winning FFRF’s first lawsuit within about a month of its filing. Satisfying victories brought resulting headlines and individuals seeking to join our new group. A past mistress of the soundbite before the term was known, Anne and her actions generated many wire and TV stories. By the spring of 1978, Anne was asked by onlookers across the country to take FFRF national.

FFRF was formally incorporated on April 5, 1978: ‘To promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church and to educate the public in matters related to nontheism.’

The founding meeting of 15 individuals took place in Indiana on April 8, 1978. My father, Paul J. ‘Jody’ Gaylor, was one of the 15 founders. (An unfailingly devoted cheerleader of my mother, he became FFRF’s hardest-working volunteer.)

The rest is history, as they say. Some, but by no means all, historic highlights are recorded in the timeline on each page of this special section, along with a summary of legal accomplishments (see pages 6-7).

The ease of ending some of those major violations, I confess, gave us in those heady years of the 1970s an unrealistic perspective about how quickly activism could make a difference. We sincerely thought we’d just have to remind the nation of its secular roots and the pendulum would swing back. Perhaps one must not only be a committed reformer but also an optimist to found a controversial cause group!

And here we are today, grown from the original three of us to more than 32,000 members nationwide. I like to say that, as a freethinker in the United States, it may be the worst of times to be in court but the best of times generally, with ‘Nones’ now comprising 24 percent of the adult population and 36 percent of Millennials. About a fifth of Generation Z identify explicitly as atheists or agnostics.

FFRF has grown from an all-volunteer group to 25 full-time staff, including seven staff attorneys and two legal fellows. We produce our own newspaper and our own media, and create our radio and new “Freethought Matters” TV show, and Facebook Live! broadcast in the Stephen Uhl Friendly Atheist Studio.

Our legal work has always set FFRF apart, even before we had the budget to hire our first staff attorney in 2008. We’ve taken well over 70 completed lawsuits with about a dozen ongoing, winning two-thirds of them. We sponsor four student essay competitions and several student activist awards. Since 2006, we’ve never missed a week broadcasting Freethought Radio. And since 2007, we’ve placed thousands of messages on billboards throughout the nation and taken full-page ads in major newspapers. Despite censorship, we’ve placed our ad by Ron (‘unabashed atheist . . . not afraid of burning in hell’) Reagan on national and regional TV markets. We’re proud of our honorary board, including our Honorary President Steven Pinker. (See their well wishes on the back page.)

We’ve grown from a dining-room-table operation to working out of a small rented office to acquiring a historic two-story building, Freethought Hall, in downtown Madison. Membership and staff growth compelled a major building expansion, completed in fall 2015, during  which we added five stories plus a library — thanks to an incredible outpouring of support and some simply extraordinarily generous benefactors, including among many others, Ken Proulx, Charlie Brooks, Steve and Diane Uhl, Brian Bolton, Harold Erickson, Joel Landon and Wanda Beers, Richard and Beverly Hermsen, Rose Zerwick and Leonard Speisman.

Anne, FFRF’s principal founder, died at 88 in June 2015, four years after my father, having lived long enough to tour the nearly completed expansion and to be feted in the Charlie Brooks Auditorium at its first event. She shared my pride that so many dedicated individuals have joined FFRF as members, and that so many professionals lend their talents as part of FFRF’s committed staff.

I never imagined back in 1976 that I would spend my life working for freethought and the First Amendment, although I can imagine nothing more important. Nor would I have imagined that writing a book about bible sexism for FFRF at my mother’s request would be how I would meet my spouse-to-be and partner at FFRF, Dan Barker, who had formerly preached from that nasty bible! We met for the first time on Oprah Winfrey’s ‘AM Chicago’ in 1984. Dan had contacted me after reading my book, briefly explaining he had just left the ministry and was seeking information on FFRF. Busy working two jobs, I was impressed by his story but, infamously, never wrote him back. My mother did, asking Dan to address the upcoming national convention about his ‘losing faith in faith’ story. It was natural she’d suggest that Dan join us as a guest when Oprah put together a show about people losing their religion. When Dan joined the staff in 1987, he promptly set up FFRF’s first computer database, then became FFRF’s public relations director and ‘ambassador of freethought,’ and since then a major freethought author, debater, speaker and co-founder of The Clergy Project.

From the beginning, it was our aspiration to do ourselves out of a cause and a job. Unfortunately, given the increasing threats to secularism and evidence-based social policy in the United States and worldwide, we appear to have job security. Our movement must work even harder to ensure that the candles of the Enlightenment are not snuffed out.


There is a back story about how FFRF really came to be founded: my family’s freethought tradition. I’m a third-generation freethinker on my mother’s side of the family. My mother explained that her quiet farmer-businessman father (who died long before I was born) was ‘embarrassed’ by religion. As she grew up, she felt that was the appropriate reaction. Anne didn’t remember her mother, who died when she was two. But my twin brother Ian recently uncovered a fascinating tidbit about our maternal ancestor, George Sowle (or Soule), who came over on the Mayflower as a tutor, not a Pilgrim. Records show that on March 1, 1658, Goodwife Soule, George’s wife, their son John and about 10 others were fined 10 shillings each for ‘frequent absence from the public worship of God.’ There appears to be no ‘God gene’ on my maternal side.

It was also lacking in my father, despite his growing up in a Christian Church Disciples of Christ family. He always said religion ‘never took.’ He despised the hypocrisy of the deacons and other holier-than-thou types in Depression-era segregated Missouri, who would mouth platitudes on Sundays — and ugly racism the rest of the week. The final straw was his humiliating full-body immersion baptism in front of the congregation when he was 12.

My parents wisely let their four children grow up free from religion. They ‘devoutly’ believed that children should be allowed to make up their minds once they were old enough to understand disturbing abstractions such as ‘original sin.’ They abhorred the idea of subjecting young children to neurosis-inducing concepts such as hell and eternal damnation. I like to say (in no apology to Robert Browning) that I was a secular Pippa: God wasn’t in his heaven; all was right with my world.

But my mother realized in so many ways how much was wrong with the world, particularly for women. What opened our eyes to the vital need to keep religion out of our laws and policies was her activism on behalf of reproductive rights. In 1967, as a small-town newspaper editor, Anne wrote the first editorial in the state calling for legalizing abortion. After that, her phone never stopped ringing. She was propelled into the abortion rights movement, beginning an abortion referral service and serving on the national board of NARAL.

As a junior high student, I happily trailed around the state of Wisconsin with my mother as she passionately worked to free women — tabling, speaking, lobbying and doing countless media interviews. When hearings were eventually held on abortion and contraception, we witnessed the rotunda of the Wisconsin state Capitol filled with nuns, priests and bused-in parochial school children. Their testimony invariably began, ‘The bible says . . .’ or ‘God says . . .’ We saw clearly that the only organized opposition to reproductive rights was religious. Abortion law reform came swiftly, but we’d learned a lesson we’d never forget: We must not allow religious doctrine or dogma to hold sway over our civil laws.

As Anne wrote in, ‘Free From Religion’ (from Lead Us Not Into Penn Station):

‘In working for women’s rights, I fought in a battle that would never end, because the root cause of the denial of those rights was religion and its control over government. Unless religion is kept in its place, all personal rights will be in jeopardy.

‘To be free from religion is an advantage for individuals; it is a necessity for government.’


To every friend, colleague, Board Member, State Representative, staffer, FFRF member (some of you, such as Dick Hewetson, dear members from the inception), and FFRF’s many generous, generous donors among you, I thank you . . . for making FFRF’s work, accomplishments and future achievements possible. Forward!

Rushdie, Sweeney added to FFRF convention lineup

Julia Sweeney hams it up for the camera at FFRF’s convention. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

FFRF is delighted to announce that acclaimed author Salman Rushdie has joined comedian Julia Sweeney and “Mythbuster” Adam Savage as some of the notable speakers who will be headlining FFRF’s 41st annual convention in San Francisco, which takes places Nov. 2-4 at the downtown Hyatt Regency.   

Future issues of Freethought Today will update convention speakers as they are confirmed. 

Salman Rushdie

Rushdie is one of the most celebrated authors of our time. He has written several classic novels, influenced a generation of writers, and received the Queen’s Knighthood for his “services to literature.” He is also one of the most thought-provoking proponents for free speech.

His novels include The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and 2008’s The Enchantress of Florence. His masterwork of magic realism, Midnight’s Children, won the presitigious Booker Prize, and later, the Best of the Booker. He is also the author of bestselling memoir Joseph Anton. Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life is a children’s novel and a companion to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. His latest novels are Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which was a New York Times besteller, and most recently The Golden House, a novel that “depicts Obama’s and Trump’s U.S.”

Julia Sweeney

Sweeney, one of FFRF’s honorary directors, will perform a new stand-up routine called “Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider” for the FFRF audience.

She is joining Second City in Chicago in May.

She is a “Saturday Night Live” alum who created and portrayed the androgynous character “Pat,” which spun off the feature film “It’s Pat.”

She also created and performed several award-winning one-woman shows, including “God Said, Ha!”, “In the Family Way” and “Letting Go of God,” which was about her journey from Roman Catholic schoolgirl to atheist. She has also been in several movies, including “Pulp Fiction.” She has previously received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

Adam Savage

Savage has spent his life gathering skills that allow him to take what’s in his brain and make it real. He’s built everything from ancient Buddhas and futuristic weapons to fine-art sculptures and dancing vegetables.

In 1993, Savage began concentrating his career on the special-effects industry, honing his skills through more than 100 television commercials and a dozen feature films, including “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” and “Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” “Galaxy Quest” and the “Matrix” sequels.

In 2002, Savage was chosen along with Jamie Hyneman to host “MythBusters,” which premiered on Discovery Channel in January 2003. Fourteen years, 1,015 myths, 2,950 experiments, eight Emmy nominations and 83 miles of duct tape later, the series ended in March 2016.

Today, Savage stars in and produces content for Tested.com, including behind-the-scenes dives into multiple blockbuster films (such as “Ghost in the Shell,” “Alien Covenant” and “Blade Runner”). He also produces and stars in his “Brain Candy” stage show with Vsauce’s Michael Stevens.

John de Lancie

De Lancie, an actor, director, producer, writer, singer, musician and voice artist, will be receiving FFRF’s first “Clarence” award — a statuette version of FFRF’s 7-foot statue on display in front of the site of the Scopes trial, in Dayton, Tenn. De Lancie spoke at that dedication and helped with the unveiling.

Well-known for portraying “Q” in the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he has many film credits, including: “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” “The Fisher King,” “Fearless,” “Multiplicity,” “Women on Top” and “The Big Time.”

De Lancie has appeared in numerous television shows, including “The Librarians,” “Breaking Bad” and “The West Wing.”

He was a speaker at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2016. He spoke in reference to his Star Trek character Q, “My name is John de Lancie, and I am a god. At least, I’ve played one on TV. And I’m here to tell you as a god that I was created by humans. The words I spoke were written by men and women, just like all the gods before me. My god creators wanted you to believe I was the omnipotent one.”

Sarah Haider

Haider is a co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), a group that advocates for the acceptance of religious dissent and works to create local support communities for those who have left Islam.

Born in Pakistan and raised in Texas, she spent her early youth as a devout Muslim. In her late teens, she began to read the Quran critically and left religion soon after.

Nowadays, Haider directs EXMNA’s Life Beyond Faith mini-documentaries, a series of video portraits of ex-Muslim atheists and humanists. She is also heading EXMNA’s Normalizing Dissent tour, and travels the United States and Canada to cover a range of issues related to apostasy in Islam. She is currently a columnist for Free Inquiry magazine. In addition to atheism, Sarah is particularly passionate about civil liberties and women’s rights.

She will receive FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award.

Bailey and Doug Harris

Bailey Harris, 12, a sixth-grade student at Salt Lake City’s Open Classroom, will be receiving the $5,000 Beverly and Richard Hermsen Student Activist Award. When Bailey was 8, she was watching the episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” in which host Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “The planets, the stars, the galaxies, we ourselves and all of life — the same star stuff.” Inspired, she immediately went up to her family’s computer and started writing what would eventually become the beautiful picture book, My Name is Stardust.

Bailey worked with her father, Doug Harris, over the next year to develop a story that they felt would teach children this concept, along with other areas of science such as evolution and astronomy, most effectively. After various versions of the story, and feedback from numerous parents, scientists, and children, the story for My Name is Stardust was finalized. Doug Harris gets a co-credit on the book.

Doug is a successful entrepreneur, special-interest writer and science education advocate.  He was a featured expert panel speaker at the 2017 BookCon in New York City on Science and Education. While releasing his book in 2017, he was interviewed by Helen Little for The Public Library Podcast on iHeartRadio about science, education and literature.

The second book in the series, Stardust Explores the Solar System, will be released in the fall.  The public will receive early access to the book through a Kickstarter campaign that launched in January. It will then be featured at Book Expo and BookCon in New York City in June, followed by an international book release in October.

Leighann Lord

Lord, a veteran stand-up comedian, will perform a stand-up routine at the convention. Lord has been seen on Lifetime, VH-1, Comedy Central, HBO and “The View.” She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and the author of Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady.

Lord was the New York City face of the African-Americans for Humanism outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and its Millions Living Happily Without Religion Campaign. In 2012, the group ran a media campaign that included billboards depicting Lord and other contemporary activists and organizers alongside historically prominent African-American humanists Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Frederick Douglass.

Author Chris Johnson has featured her in The Atheist Book: A Better Life.

Debra Deanne Olson

Olson, along with Dr. Craig West Wilkinson, just authored a book about her atheist grandfather, The Honorable Culbert Levy Olson: Governor of California 1939-1943.  A review of the book was syndicated in more than 300 newspapers in early March.

She is a political, environmental and peace activist and held volunteer positions on both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

She was a national senior advisor and a fundraising consultant for the Kucinich for President campaign in 2003. She is founder of Peace Solutions.

Sarah Haider
Debra Deanne Olson
John de Lancie
Bailey Harris
Adam Savage
Salman Rushdie Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Olson is committed to fostering a culture of peace and connecting like-minded individuals and organizations to create a sustainable and healthy society. She has been an active member of the Clinton Global Initiative since 2006 and served as a member of the Business Council of Women for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary.