They Said What? (November 2018)

The devil is the “Great Accuser, who roams the Earth looking for ways to accuse.”

Pope Francis, who asked for daily prayers to protect the Catholic Church from what he says are “attacks by the devil.” The Vatican wouldn’t say if Francis was referring to its former ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who has thrown the papacy into turmoil by accusing Francis of rehabilitating ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI over accusations he slept with seminarians.

Associated Press, 9-29-18


Sadly, Bossier schools will have to endure this legal harassment from the atheist groups for a while now, so everyone needs to be prepared.

Louisiana state Rep. Mike Johnson, who claims that “atheist litigation groups in California have contacted private investigators in our area to try to hire them to obtain hidden video of Christian student groups and activities at Benton High School and potentially other Bossier Parish schools.”

RollCall.com, 9-19-18


There are a lot of things behind it that have nothing to do with government. They have things to do with . . . things like removing God from the public square.

Sen. Ted Cruz, in a debate with Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, talking about mass shootings after being asked about gun safety.

C-Span, 9-21-18


It’s a kind of theocracy run by atheists, where the minor, smallest peccadillos from your teen years are now disqualifying.

Fox News bloviator Tucker Carlson on the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

Friendly Atheist, 10-4-18


Is it right to hire a hit man to solve a problem? You cannot, it is not right to kill a human being, regardless of how small it is, to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hit man to solve a problem.

Pope Francis, speaking about abortion in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience.

The Irish Times, 10-10-18


This man does not need this job, he took this job because God provided him the intellect he has to help our country and to help the world. . . . I love that he mentions God. He has a family. He respects people — whether people disagree with that or not.

Sister Maryann, a nun, speaking about President Trump to a reporter during Trump’s rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Channel 4 News, 10-10-18


There is a bent toward throwing off the rule of God.

Corona (Calif.) City Council member Randy Fox, who called the local November election “a spiritual battle” and said to vote for three Christian pastors who are “running together” for council.

Los Angeles Times, 10-13-18


It’s a lot of state workers, a lot of government workers, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Freedom From Religion Foundation is here. This is a very liberal city and a high percentage of people here promote the gay agenda.

Steve McConkey, president of 4 Winds USA, complaining about Madison, where the federal court there ruled that it’s discriminatory for insurance coverage to fail to cover gender reassignment surgery for a government employee.

OneNewsNow, 10-15-18


We pray also for the church to take a stand, and that this would be the finest hour for the church to stand right now in this country, and take its place as the lead in the battle that we’re facing, which at the heart is a spiritual battle.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, on wanting to end the Johnson Amendment.

Right Wing Watch, 10-16-18


SES [Southern Evangelical Seminary] is delighted to be able to offer Christians both here and overseas this unique opportunity to be taught by one of the most significant evangelical leaders of the past half-century.

Richard Land, speaking about Paige Patterson, who is set to teach, ironically, a Christian ethics course. Patterson is the former president of Texas’ Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who was fired in May over his handling of seminary students’ rape allegations.

Religion News Service, 10-4-18

Mickey Desruisseaux: Why do we portray atheists as broken believers?

This article was first published Sept. 19 in Washington Square News, the student newspaper of New York University. It is republished with permission.

By Mickey Desruisseaux

One of this fall’s new TV shows is CBS’s dramedy “God Friended Me,” the premise of which is exactly what the title suggests. An aggressively atheistic

Mickey Desruisseaux
“God Friended Me” TV show.

podcaster named Miles (Brandon Micheal Hall) accepts a friend request on Facebook from the big guy upstairs.

‘God’ starts suggesting more friends for doubtful Miles to add, whom he starts running into almost immediately afterward in real life. Each of them has problems that Miles seems uniquely attuned to solving, and each, in turn, seems to possess a quality that can teach Miles something about the world around him. But while the schmaltzy premise is surprisingly well executed, the pilot episode ends up reinforcing a paradigm in which belief is viewed as the norm, disbelief as an aberration and atheists as errant members of the flock waiting for a shepherd to guide them home.

It turns out that, as the son of a pastor, Miles was a devout child until his mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. He prayed endlessly for God to cure her, only for her to die in a car accident after making a miraculous full recovery. The tragedy shattered Miles’ faith and his relationship with his father, pushing him into becoming the oh-so-sour atheist he is today. I nearly chucked my laptop across the room, before remembering that in the real world, exaggerated displays of exasperation are pretty expensive.

In a vacuum, this wouldn’t be a bad storytelling decision; I’ve known a few people in my life who’ve lost their faith for similar reasons. But when you consume enough media, you start to pick up on some of the tropes that keep rearing their heads regarding vocal atheists. Atheists are usually smugly lording their supposed intellectual superiority over people of faith, or faux-Nietzschean nihilists hell-bent on world destruction. And while Miles’ depiction as an ex-believer nursing his faith within a cocoon of cynicism is not quite as bad as that, it can be just as harmful, because these dynamics begin to bleed back into the real world and negatively affect people’s perceptions of the nonreligious.

About 10 to 25 percent of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic or otherwise nonreligious. But studies show that the general populace distrusts nonbelievers’ morality. Of the 535 current members of Congress, exactly one identifies as religiously “unaffiliated.” No professed atheist has ever been appointed to the Supreme Court, nor has one ever been elected president. Don’t count on it happening anytime soon, either. Gallup polls have suggested an atheist candidate would enjoy less support than a candidate from any other religious group in the country, even in an age of resurgent neo-Nazis and judicially upheld travel bans that are Definitely Not Targeted Toward Muslims. Americans may not trust believers equally, but we distrust nonbelievers most of all.

But there’s no reason to. No one’s born with an innate knowledge of the catechisms and doctrines underpinning the world’s major religions; it’s something we’re either taught as children or discover and embrace later on. Some people never experience either, and still, others decide later in life that the framework they’re used to no longer suits them for reasons entirely unrelated to a personal tragedy. Either is perfectly fine, and neither is the equivalent of rejecting morality outright. Atheists are no more prone to good or evil behavior than anyone else of any other faith, and evidence suggests that America’s pervasive anti-atheist attitudes make people less likely to express their doubt in the divine.

The marketing for “God Friended Me” claims that it wants to spur conversations about faith without prescribing a concrete answer, and it’s a very worthy goal. It would’ve been better served with a prickly, but still a fundamentally good main character whose atheism was a result of a self-directed reflection on the big questions, and whose possible turn to faith was another step in that journey.

Choosing to root his disbelief in childhood trauma instead feels like a wasted opportunity to showcase that a life without belief in God can be every bit as moral and meaningful as a life with one. It’s very possible that some twists lie ahead for Miles, including whether or not he’s actually been friended by God. But after its first episode, it feels very much like the show is already steering him, and the conversations it wants to foster, in a particular direction.

I’m pulling for “God Friended Me,” in no small part because it stars one of my favorite actors, Joe “Monologue” Morton, as Miles’ estranged father. In an age of hyperpolarized animosity driven in no small part by social media, there’s something comforting about a show that wants to represent it as a force for good and speaks to our better angels. I’ll be back when it premieres to see how Miles’ journey toward Personal Growth™ and quite possibly True Love™ plays out.

Here’s hoping that viewers of all stripes understand that you can find both of those things without being a believer.

Mickey Desruisseaux is a student at NYU’s School of Law. He was a political science major with a creative writing minor.

Erin Louis: The bible taught me that God is a jerk

By Erin Louis

Erin Louis
Vengeful God

Warm, safe, snuggled in my bed and listening to my one of my brothers reading to me, I shivered with absolute terror. Death and destruction surrounded a small family while they desperately tried to rescue two of each kind of animal from certain death on a handmade boat.  A huge storm and flood was coming that was guaranteed to kill every living man, woman, child and animal, with the noted exception of this family and the animals they could rescue.

The scariest thing? I believed it to be true. This was no Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella or other made-up fairy tale, this supposedly really happened. Why did it happen? Because all the people and animals that God created were bad and had to die. And that wasn’t all. Because they were bad, not only would they drown, but they would also burn and suffer forever in a really bad place called hell. At 4 years old, I realized I needed to be good or I would go to hell and burn forever, too.

This story was supposed to teach me morals, but instead it taught me that God was a jerk. I knew that people could be jerks and I supposed that maybe they deserved this punishment. But what did all those animals do? Did they go to hell, too, or was their punishment simply being drowned? Did they not love God enough either?

Of course, I heard all about how good people like my wrinkly old auntie Margaret went to heaven, where they lived in the clouds with all the other good people. Even with the promise of heaven, the punishment seemed a little harsh, and to a little kid, absolutely petrifying.

I would also come to learn during endless Sunday mornings that it wasn’t just innocent animals that would suffer God’s wrath, but anyone who simply didn’t believe in him would also burn in hell. God would sentence you to an afterlife where a red-horned devil would endlessly poke you in the behind with his pitchfork.

My thoughts went to the little kids around the world who were taught to believe in other gods than our own Christian one, or worse yet, no god at all. Would God punish them for simply not knowing about the true god they were supposed to worship? The nice lady at my Sunday school said “Yes, indeed, they would suffer in hell if they didn’t believe.” From a very early age, I learned to be afraid of, and to obey this very powerful jerk. I was taught to fear God.

Then, one day, while playing with my plastic ponies and pondering life, I thought, “If I am only being good so I can go to heaven and not go to hell, am I really being good?” And then an even more horrifying thought occurred to me: “What if God finds out I’m only being good to avoid hell? Will he punish me for that too?”

Panic enveloped me at that point. I knew that if I was bad I could ask for forgiveness and still go heaven, but what if I died right before I had a chance to? I could just see the red guy with the horns and pitchfork twisting his black mustache, wearing an evil grin, hoping for me to steal a cookie just before getting hit by a bus. What if I thought I was being good, but God decided that I was just pretending so that I wouldn’t go to hell? Was anybody really good if they were only doing it to go to heaven and not hell? Could this just be some sort of sick game God was playing and we would all really end up in hell? He did, after all, drown the whole world.

I thought once again that this God fellow was a real jerk, then I knew I was definitely going to hell. God loves me and all the sinners, I was told, even the ones he had to send to hell. Somehow, that information failed to provide any comfort or alleviate my anxiety.

Christmas revelation

On Dec. 25, 1986, my world would come crashing down. I was 6, and had awoken early, just like every other Christmas morning, and rushed out to the family room to see what Santa had brought. Properly threatened with hell, I had been a good girl all year. Despite my best efforts, the space under the tree was bare. I had failed; I was bad. No presents meant I had upset Santa, and likely God, too. I would have no new toys and I would almost certainly be going to hell. I began to cry.

My mother heard me and came out of her room to find a devastated little girl sobbing in her pink Care Bear nightgown. “I have to tell you something,” she said. She then explained that Santa Claus was a story, and she had been the one that put out the presents every year, and this year, she simply forgot.

I felt deceived and angry. Those feelings dissipated quickly after I opened the box which held what would be my very most prized possession for the next three years. My brand new My Little Pony beauty parlor made forgiving my mother for her deception and forgetfulness easy enough. Santa Claus as a story to get kids to behave made sense, if a little messed up, and I could accept the ruse. However, my belief in this jerk otherwise known as God was another story.

Were these stories of heaven and hell also a way to get people to be good? I was not bold enough to ask the question of the adults, but the seed of doubt had now been planted and would soon grow into a big beautiful tree of logic and reason, and surprisingly, personal morality.

If there was no God, devil, heaven or hell, which I now suspected to be the case, why be a good person at all? Why were there not an enormous number of robbers and murderers running around the world? I knew there were bad people, but it would seem to me that if everyone suspected like I did that there was no God, why weren’t there more bad people than good?  Most of the people I knew were nice and good. I was only 6 and thought I was pretty smart, but I couldn’t be the only one to wonder if God was just a scarier version of Santa Claus.

No longer as scared of the big bad red guy with the lake of fire and pointy stick, I left most of these questions unconsidered for a while. After all, there were a few plastic ponies with hair in dire need of braiding.

Morality from within

The question of my own personal morality ended up answering itself for me. After a particularly grueling day of elementary school, I spotted my big brother’s elderly cat in our backyard. Princess was hobbling a little too close to the edge of the pool, and, in my bad mood, I decided I would push her in. She howled and cried as she splashed around in the clear blue water. I immediately fished her out and started to dry her off and tried to console the poor old thing.  As she looked up at me with her large milky confused eyes, I knew that I never, ever, wanted to do something like that again. I had watched Jiminy Cricket on TV and had a basic understanding of what a conscience was, but this was real world experience not a cartoon.

Never before had I felt such crippling guilt. I’d swiped a coin or two from the coffee can in my brother’s closet, stuck a finger in a birthday cake, then carefully smoothed over the hole, but never before had I deliberately caused a living being such fright and pain.

At that moment I was the lowest of the low, the very worst person on the face of the planet. If anyone in the history of the world deserved to be poked in the butt for all of eternity with sharp stick, it was me at that moment. That was when I knew I didn’t need God to be good. I simply didn’t want to be a bad person. I didn’t like the way it made me feel, and I couldn’t stand the look in that poor cat’s eyes. There wasn’t a big bad boogieman in this world or beyond that could make me feel as bad as when I did when I pushed that cat into the pool. I understood very clearly that I was very capable of understanding right from wrong without silly scary stories.

My 40th birthday is lurking around the corner, and since my great moral epiphany at age 6, I have done some things that wouldn’t be considered good. But, for the most part, I am proud of my life and the good I do for other people. When I have done things that are wrong, I have no one or nothing to turn to for absolution. I can’t march down to the church and tell a guy behind a screen what I did, mutter a few words and, poof, that dark ugly lump of guilt is magically gone. When I do something wrong, that feeling stays with me, like an ugly stain on a favorite sweater. It reminds me not to do it again. The same thing is true when I do things that are good. That feeling stays with me and reminds me I like doing good for other people.

Teaching my son how it feels to do good for other people also makes me feel good. He is 13 and has never lived with the concept of a reward or punishment in the afterlife, although my husband and I do use real-world rewards and consequences. For instance, a donut after a vaccination, or a loss of his Xbox for a week for saying a four-letter word. He knows that we give blood on a regular basis for the simple fact that it helps people. He knows of and has an active role in which charities we donate to. We celebrate Christmas as a time to give to each other and appreciate what we have. So far it seems we have managed to raise a moral human being without the fear of God or the devil.

When I donate blood, money or time, it makes me feel good. When I make someone smile when they’re having a rough day, maybe saving some poor old cat from the same fate as Princess, it makes me feel good. I don’t need the threat of punishment or promise of reward in an afterlife that I’m not sure even exists to do good for other people. I just need to know that deep down, I don’t like being a jerk.

FFRF Member Erin Louis lives in northern California with her husband and son. She’s a classically trained pastry chef, writer and unabashed atheist.

In the News (November 2018)

Freethought Caucus expands rapidly

The Congressional Freethought Caucus is growing quickly.

In April, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., the only openly nontheistic member of Congress, announced the formation of the Congressional Freethought Caucus to focus on promoting secular values and give a voice to freethinking voters. Other founding members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus include Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

In the few months since then, the caucus has doubled in size. With Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., joining in to defend science and rationality, the Congressional Freethought Caucus has now achieved double-digit membership.


EPA to dissolve office that advises on science

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Adviser, a senior post that was created to counsel the EPA administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, according to a person familiar with the agency’s plans. The person spoke anonymously because the decision had not yet been made public.

The science adviser works across the agency to ensure that the highest quality science is integrated into the agency’s policies and decisions, according to the EPA’s website.

The move is the latest among several steps taken by the Trump administration that appear to have diminished the role of scientific research in policymaking while the administration pursues an agenda of rolling back regulations.


Atheist loses challenge against ‘so help me God’

The Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America  will continue ending with the words “so help me God,” after an unsuccessful legal challenge to its constitutionality.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo filed a federal lawsuit against the United States last year. Perrier-Bilbo, a French citizen, has lived in Massachusetts since 2000 and wanted to become an official U.S. citizen. Her application was approved and the oath was the final step. Because she’s an atheist, though, she said she could not “in good conscience include those words in her oath.”

But U.S. District Judge William Young of the District of Massachusetts said in his ruling that while Perrier-Bilbo had proper standing, her arguments weren’t convincing. Was the phrase “so help me God” a violation of the Establishment Clause? No, Young said, because it was ceremonial and a “well-established tradition.”


Senator sued for blocking atheists

American Atheists has filed a lawsuit against Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert for blocking four Arkansas residents on Facebook and Twitter after they made statements critical of his policy positions.

The lawsuit itself cites Rapert saying he blocks “liberal extremists,” rather than using neutral criteria.

It also mentions how, even though profanity is listed as a reason Rapert might ban someone from seeing his social media posts, users who curse but agree with his views have not been banned. Neither have people who agree with Rapert but “encourage others to commit criminal acts,” “disparage others for their religious views,” or “accuse others of crimes.”


Atheist group forms in Utah middle school

The Secular Student Alliance broke new ground by getting its first middle school chapter. Bailey Harris, 12, has begun one at Open Classroom Charter School in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bailey, who was a speaker at FFRF’s convention in San Francisco and earned FFRF’s Richard and Beverly Hermsen Student Activist Award, has written a book, with her father Doug, My Name is Stardust, the first in a series.

Doug told Hemant Mehta (“The Friendy Atheist”) that “Bailey is most excited by the idea of creating a safe community for secular students at her school,” Mehta writes. “There are so many secular students that feel that they are alone and she believes that this will help them find each other and build a positive community. . . She feels that having SSA on campus will help secular students feel that they are a part of something special as well.”


Few young adults identify with Church of England

The Church of England is facing severely reduced numbers, with only 2 percent of British young adults identifying with it, while seven out of 10 of those under age 24 say they have no religion, according to the British Social Attitudes survey.

Church of England affiliation is at a record low among all age groups, and has halved since 2002, according to the survey. And far fewer actually attend church services on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, the trend toward a secular society has increased over recent years. The BSA survey found that 52 percent of people had no religion in 2017, compared with 41 percent in 2002.

While the figures are starkest among younger people, in every age group the biggest single group are those identifying with no religion.


Woman is denied her miscarriage prescription

A Michigan woman wants a pharmacy to discipline a Petoskey pharmacist and implement a company-wide policy for how pharmacists should handle religious and moral objections to dispensing medication after she was denied a prescription to help complete a miscarriage.

Rachel Peterson, 35, alleges a pharmacist at the Meijer store refused to fill her prescription for misoprostol in July because of his personal religious views. She says he also refused to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy.

Misoprostol can be used to prevent stomach ulcers and also can be used to induce labor during pregnancy, to aid in the completion of a miscarriage and in the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. When combined with another drug, it can be used to induce an abortion.


Group to spend $1M probing cardinals

“The Better Church Governance Group,” an organization that includes six former U.S. cardinals on its board of trustees, announced that it would spend more than $1 million over the next year to investigate every current member of the College of Cardinals — the people who elect popes — in an effort to shine a light on anyone credibly accused of child sexual abuse or covering up that abuse.

The goal is to produce a comprehensive report by April of 2020, presumably while Pope Francis is still in office and before his successor is chosen.

Organizers say it will be conducted by a team of nearly 100 researchers, academics, investigators and journalists.


Court: Belfast bakery can refuse to bake cake

Britain’s Supreme Court supported the right of a Belfast bakery to refuse to bake a cake with a message supporting same-sex marriage, finding that its Christian owners could not be compelled to reproduce a message contrary to their beliefs.

Although the person who requested the cake was gay, a five-judge panel found that the bakery owners’ refusal was based not on sexual orientation, but on their Protestant faith’s opposition to gay marriage.

“There was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation,” said the judgment, which overturned the rulings of two lower courts.

It cited the United States Supreme Court’s decision in June in favor of a Colorado baker who had refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a narrow decision that left open the larger question of whether a business can discriminate against gay men and lesbians based on First Amendment rights.

Court dismisses FFRF case on standing, not merits

Judge Mack

A federal court judge has dismissed a lawsuit by FFRF and three local plaintiffs against a Texas justice of the peace who imposes prayer at the beginning of court sessions.

FFRF and three plaintiffs directly affected by Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack’s religious rituals filed suit in March 2017, naming him in his official capacity and Montgomery County. U.S. District Court Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr., for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, issued a ruling on Sept. 28.

The court dismissed the case based on standing (or right to sue), not on the merits.

Werlein said FFRF could not sue Mack in his official capacity, then dismissed FFRF’s claims against Montgomery County, saying the county has “no power to stop Mack from employing the prayer practice to which plaintiffs object” because the Texas Constitution establishes county commissioners courts.

Werlein dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning FFRF can refile the case, naming Mack in his personal capacity.

“This decision does not bless Mack’s unconstitutional actions, or in any way get him off the hook,” explains FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She said FFRF will study the decision and confer with local plaintiffs who continue to be injured by the prayer practice, to decide how best to remedy the violation.

Both of the attorney plaintiffs have appeared before Mack multiple times on official business, including “Jane Doe,” a Christian who “objects to a government official telling her when or how to pray” and “John Roe,” a self-employed attorney who regularly represents clients in front of Mack, and who “is religiously unaffiliated and objects to being subjected to religious prayers” in a courtroom.

Mack, as Montgomery County justice of the peace, has jurisdiction over minor misdemeanor offenses and lesser civil matters.

All three of the individual plaintiffs felt compelled to remain in the courtroom during Mack’s prayers at risk of jeopardizing their cases and careers, or their clients’ cases.

Mack, a graduate of the Jackson College of Ministries, where he majored in theology, ran for justice of the peace in 2014 on a platform of reinstituting religious values within the office, partly by implementing a chaplaincy program. He established a volunteer chaplaincy program involving “visiting pastors” who start each of his court sessions with prayer, within his first weeks of office.

FFRF first sent a complaint letter to Mack in 2014 asking him to cease his courtroom prayers, receiving no reply, then filed a formal complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, whose investigation lasted over a year. In November 2015, the commission declined to discipline Mack, citing lack of authority but cautioning Mack to end or substantially change the practice.

FFRF urges belief in science with new billboards

In October, FFRF placed 14-by-48-foot billboards in Atlanta and Denver that state, “In Science We Trust,” which is a secular play on the national motto.

“‘In God We Trust’ is a johnny-come-lately motto adopted by Congress during the Cold War,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor points out. “The motto, to be accurate, would have to be worded, ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and that would be very silly.”

In Atlanta, the billboard is up at the corner of Marietta Street and Simpson Street. That billboard is part of a year-long media campaign in the South’s most bustling metropolis. FFRF is grateful for the support of Georgia FFRF Member Jack Egger, who is graciously funding the campaign.

Egger notes that it’s satisfying to counter the godly motto, “In God We Trust,” which optionally appears on many Georgia license plates.

“If all of us had faith in science and humanism, we would improve life on Earth so fast,” urges Egger.

FFRF and Egger additionally have two rotating billboards featuring pictures of several young atheists with the message, “I’m Atheist & I Vote.”

One of these digital billboards is located along Highway 141 just north of McGinnis Ferry Road. The second is located along Interstate 75 just south of Delk Road.

Previous billboards that FFRF and Egger have placed this year in the vicinity include a bulletin telling people to “Enjoy life — there is no afterlife,” a timely billboard reminding residents of our nation’s foundational wall with the message, “The only wall we need is between church-state,” and a provocative message proclaiming, “supernatural belief — the enemy of humanity.”

In Denver, the billboard is on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue. FFRF Member Monty C. Cleworth generously funded the billboard.

“With a host of real and pressing challenges facing society today, our leaders need to be making evidence-based policy decisions,” says Cleworth. “Our world would be quickly improved if we all gave up supernaturalism in favor of belief in science and humanism.”

This is the second billboard message in the Mile High City hosted by FFRF this fall. In September, with the help of the Denver chapter of FFRF, the “I’m Atheist & I Vote” billboard went up on the corner of Lincoln Street and Eighth Avenue.

FFRF’s newest advertising campaign includes the “In Science We Trust” billboards that were placed in Atlanta and Denver in October.

FFRF urges IRS to end private school tax handout

FFRF is urging the IRS to approve a proposed rule change that would terminate a massive voucher-like tax break.

The Internal Revenue Service was seeking public comments on a rule that would, among other things, put a stop to a widespread practice of taxpayers legally profiting by donating to private religious schools.

The tax loophole works this way: First, some states provide dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations to educational scholarship programs, which keep some of the funds for themselves and pass the rest on to private schools, most of which are religious. So, if you donate $100,000, the state takes $100,000 off of your state tax bill. Next, the federal government gives a deduction on federal taxes on the same donation. After donating $100,000 and having the state pay you back in full, you also get to deduct $100,000 from your federal taxes. The vast majority of private schools benefitting from such programs are religiously affiliated. Tuition tax credits almost entirely subsidize religious schools with overtly religious missions. For example, in North Carolina, 92 percent of students receiving public money through “opportunity scholarships” have used it to attend religious schools.

“There is no legitimate reason for the federal government to encourage taxpayers to donate to educational scholarship programs,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write in a letter to the IRS. “The government should be focused on promoting secular public education and should never incentivize taxpayers to fund religion. Allowing taxpayers to profit from a donation to an educational scholarship program directly encourages taxpayers to support religion.”

Plus, this tax scheme invites fraud due to a lack of accountability.

FFRF calls out Roy Moore for reckless advice

FFRF has called out the wildly misnamed Foundation for Moral Law for encouraging Alabama public schools to violate students’ rights and the Constitution.

On Sept. 21, the Foundation for Moral Law, led by disgraced former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, held a press conference, during which he and his representatives encouraged Alabama public schools to risk financial and legal liability by continuing to broadcast prayer over the loudspeaker before football games in defiance of well-established Supreme Court precedent.

Moore’s foundation subsequently announced it had sent a memo to all Alabama school district superintendents erroneously informing them that they can skirt the Constitution by simply claiming that these school-sponsored prayers are student-led.

This press conference and accompanying memo came in response to school attorneys advising and educating the school boards they represent about how best to refrain from endorsing religion in public schools after FFRF warned many school districts that they were violating the Constitution.

Moore’s foundation incorrectly states that FFRF “insists that prayers at the public school football games violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

“It is the Supreme Court that ‘insists’ that public schools adhere to the Establishment Clause, and that ‘insists’ on protecting student freedom of conscience,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write in their Sept. 25 letter. “The Foundation for Moral Law can bury its head in the sand and deny court precedent, but it is reckless and unethical to then counsel public school officials to do the same.”

Peoria newspaper editorial backs FFRF on school prayer

An editorial in the daily newspaper of Peoria, Ill., strongly supported state-church separation when commenting on a case involving FFRF.

A district parent reported to FFRF that the Dunlap High School boys cross country coach joins his team in a group prayer prior to each meet. The prayer is reportedly initiated by a student but the team’s coach participates by standing with the students and holding his hat across his heart during the prayer, making any students who opt out feel like they are disappointing their coach.

It is well-established law that it is illegal for public school coaches to lead their teams in prayers, or to otherwise promote religion to students. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court has routinely struck down school-sponsored prayer.

On Oct. 6, the Journal Star of Peoria backed FFRF’s claim when it ran an editorial titled, “Separation of church and state must be respected.”

“In today’s America, we are learning the hard truth of what it means to be an individual and to demand your rights, as well as the cost of not being one of the group, even if your rights are outlined in the Constitution,” the editorial began.

“Feedback from that story leaned toward commenters saying the parent should get over it. But that’s not what the law states,” the editorial continued. “The Constitution allows for keeping religion out of public business, including in schools and government buildings. Simply put, religious views should not be forced upon an individual or their children while they are in school.”

FFRF did receive word from the district’s law firm that “unintentional constitutional violations can occur if actions of school representatives cross the line from showing deference and respect to actually ‘endorsing’ religious exercises. In that regard, we have counseled school representatives to insure that the coaching staff maintains an appropriate distance from any student initiated prayer circle so not to send any unintended message that the district endorses the religious exercise.”

The Journal Star concluded its editorial with strong words of constitutional truth.

“However unintentional, a change needed to be made. Separation of church and state is the law and should be acknowledged and respected.”

DOJ begins probe of Catholic Church

Amateurs

After receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as well as letters from victims’ rights groups, the Justice Department has launched a probe of the Roman Catholic clergy’s horrific sex abuse scandal.

“The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation of child sexual abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, using subpoenas to demand confidential files and testimony from church leaders, according to two people familiar with the probe,” the Associated Press reported Oct. 10.

Then, on Oct. 26, the DOJ sent a request to every Catholic diocese in the United States not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse, which signals  that the investigation could grow far more extensive.

FFRF had recently asked for a federal probe into the Church’s massive wrongdoings.

The 1,400-page Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing thousands of instances of sexual abuse by clergy in six of the states’ eight dioceses made major headlines. A federal investigation was especially fitting, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor contended in a letter, because the Church’s “musical chairs” history of deliberately moving offenders to new locations — shielding them from local outrage and providing them with fresh victims — creates an interstate crisis that required federal action.

“U.S. Attorney William McSwain of Philadelphia, who issued the subpoenas, wants to know if priests, bishops, seminarians or others committed any federal crimes,” says the AP story. “He demanded the bishops turn over any evidence that anyone in their ranks took children across state lines for illicit purposes; sent sexual images or messages via phone or computer; instructed anyone not to contact police; reassigned suspected predators; or used money or other assets as part of the scandal.”

FFRF is pleased that the DOJ is finally acting decisively.