Freethought Today caption contest

To enter the contest, please write a witty or humorous caption for this photo. Email your response to by Feb. 13. The winner, chosen by FFRF staff, will receive an FFRF T-shirt! We will announce the winner and runners-up in the March issue.

Photos, cartoons (Jan/Feb 2019)

FFRF’s full-page ad in The New York Times on Dec. 15, 2018.
World-renowned classical pianist Jarred Dunn took this photo inside the cathedral of Notre Dame. “As beautiful as some of the architecture and art is inside this cathedral, it’s somehow both comforting and revolting that they’ve resorted to offerings by bank cards,” Dunn wrote.
A woman dances in front of the flames during the annual Winter Solstice Bonfire at Olbrich Park in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 21. FFRF was represented at the event with signage and several staff members. (Photo by Roger Daleiden)
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker spoke about “The Importance of Critical Thinking” before the Honduran Freethinkers on Dec. 5 at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras. From left, Cesar Laínez (member of Honduran Freethinkers from San Pedro Sula), Olvin Almendares (president of Honduran Freethinkers), Dan Barker, Ferney Rodríguez (biology professor from Bogotá, Colombia, who also spoke at the conference) and Héctor Amador and Geovany Kelly (members of Honduran Freethinkers from San Pedro Sula).
Freethinkers Association of Central Texas President Katie Gaines (right), presents longtime FFRF Member Julie Fisher with the Catherine Fahringer Award for her decades-long dedication to the secular communities of San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. “We recently came across FACT’s founding documents with Catherine Fahringer’s signature, along with Julie’s,” Gaines writes. “That tugged on a few heart strings, to say the least. I am fully aware of FACT’s close ties with Catherine Fahringer and FFRF. We could think of no better recipient for this honor, and believe Catherine Fahringer would be proud to know Julie is still such a dedicated and beloved member of this community.”
FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, right, speaks with FFRF’s generous members Diane and Stephen Uhl during a break at the Secular Coalition of Arizona’s 4th annual Secular Summit in Mesa, Ariz., on Dec. 9. Seidel was a member of a panel that discussed the “Status of Church-State Separation,” which was hosted by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Seidel also spoke to about 70 FFRF members Dec. 7 at a pre-chapter event for a group in the Phoenix area considering forming an FFRF-Valley of the Sun chapter.
In late November, FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne was a guest speaker on constitutional law at Monroe High School in Wisconsin, where he also played 12 games of chess simultaneously against 24 students.
Photo by Rafida Bonya Ahmed FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker had an pleasant meeting and “talked shop” in late November with Andrew Copson, executive director of the British Humanist Association, in London. Copson also presides over the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Both groups are changing names. BHA will become British Humanists and IHEU will become Humanists International. FFRF recently joined IHEU as a member organization.
Devil and Pope find common ground
Sex abuse scandal
Religion survey

Convention speech — John de Lancie: The revolutionary act of telling the truth

John de Lancie speaks at FFRF’s annual convention in San Francisco on Nov. 2, 2018.
John de Lancie shows off the inaugural Clarence Darrow Award. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
John de Lancie shows off his Clarence Darrow Award while standing with Margaret Downey and Zenos Frudakis, the sculptor of the statue the statuette is based on. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Here is Margaret Downey’s introduction of John de Lancie at FFRF’s 41st annual convention in San Francisco on Nov. 2, days before the 2018 midterm elections. Downey, an FFRF state representative from California, is an atheist and state-church separation activist. She is also a past board member of the American Humanist Association.

Thank you for giving me the honor of introducing John de Lancie.

John is an actor, director and producer, but many of you in this audience know him best for portraying “Q” in the television series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

John has appeared in numerous television shows apart from “Star Trek,” including “The Librarians,” “Torchwood,” “Breaking Bad” and “West Wing,” just to name a few.

John’s many film credits are vast. Some of the films you probably have enjoyed are “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “The Fisher King,” “The Onion Field,” “Taking Care of Business,” “Fearless,” “The Big Time” and “Pathology.”

He has been a member of the American Shakespeare Company, the Seattle Repertory Company, the South Coast Repertory and, most recently, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation as an Afterlife Member!

In the world of music, John has performed with most of the major symphony orchestras in America, Canada and Australia. John has directed a number of operas, including Puccini’s “Tosca.”

He was the host of the Los Angeles Philharmonic “Symphonies for Youth,” as well as writer/director of “First Nights,” which is a concert series at Disney Hall. 

John is the co-owner of Alien Voices. The other owner was Leonard Nimoy. Alien Voices is not affiliated with the SETI search for extraterrestrial intelligence, even though the name sounds like it could be a similar project. No, Alien Voices is a production company devoted to the dramatization of classic science fiction.

But John has an interest in real life and the many social concerns that confront us. Combining his talents with an interest in evolution and science, John is embarking on a project to convey Darwin’s theory of evolution to children and many other scientific themes through a new cartoon endeavor. Watch for that in the near future, folks.

John’s interest in science and the law has him examining the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover School District trial. We may see a dramatic portrayal of the characters soon, thanks to John’s talents as a writer, director, actor and producer.

John is the very first recipient of FFRF’s Clarence Darrow Award. It is so fitting that it is being awarded to him because, in 2005, John actually portrayed Clarence Darrow in a stage production called “The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial.” John’s dear friend, Ed Asner, played William Jennings Bryan, so you can imagine what a wonderful production that must have been.

John lent his celebrity and memorable remarks to the dedication of FFRF’s commissioned statue of Clarence Darrow in Dayton, Tenn., in July 2017. The Rhea County Courthouse statue was created by sculptor, Zenos Frudakis who is in the audience tonight. Zenos, please join me on stage.

Now we are pleased that John is here to accept an award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Please welcome John de Lancie as the first recipient of the Clarence Darrow Award.

By John de Lancie

For those of you who don’t know your Catholic saints, and I have a feeling this is a crowd that probably doesn’t, St. Genesius is the patron saint of actors. He’s also the patron saint of thieves, epileptics and clowns. I’ve known this tidbit for years and counted myself blessed to be included. Recently, however, I discovered to my horror that St. Genesius also represents lawyers. Actors, clowns, stenographers and lawyers. 

I petitioned the Vatican to get the lawyers thrown out. They could easily be transferred to St. Felix, who handles spiders. He should take care of them. Or St. Dominic of Silos, who handles rabid dogs. It’s a simple request, but I’m still waiting. The reason I’m eager for this transfer stems from an unfortunate conversation I had a few months ago with a lawyer, who said to me, “If I ever got you on the witness stand, I could easily destroy your credibility with the jury simply because actors are by their very nature professional liars.” What a staggering thing to say. And something that I took deeply to heart given that we are well into the 23rd month of our great national paroxysm of lying.

Actors are a lot of things, but lying is the antithesis of what we do professionally. The craft of acting has nothing to do with deception. We are not in search of lies; quite the contrary. Just as great plays reveal profound truths, acting at its best strives to hold those truths as a mirror up to nature. That is what makes great acting so compelling. That is what we strive to achieve. Actors who conceal the truth ring false. And we dismiss their performance as being untruthful, unwatchable. There’s nothing attractive to an audience about lying. Lying sullies both the liar and the one being lied to.

Spend five minutes watching Sarah Huckabee Sanders and tell me if her performance doesn’t make you cringe and want to turn away. Acting is truth-telling, and the audience knows it when they see it. If my lawyer friend had started the conversation like this: “You’ve played a lot of liars in your career, have you learned anything?” I would have replied, “Absolutely. I have learned the value of telling the truth.”

World of ‘what if’

During the rehearsal of a play, the actor forms an intimate relationship with the truth. The process is not just about learning your lines and avoiding the furniture. It is a period of intense examination of the character. To do it properly, you have to be honest with yourself and vulnerable to what you may uncover.

You have to be brave to enter the world of “what if.” What if I were handicapped? What if I only had a week to live? What if I were a killer? 

A while back, I played the character of Hans Biebow. Biebow was the chief Nazi administrator for the ghetto of Lodz. With the help of Mordecai Rumkowski, the Jewish mayor of the ghetto, Biebow transformed Lodz into a major manufacturing center for the German army. Both men worked feverishly to keep the ghetto producing. Rumkowski’s goal was to save his people, Biebow’s was to become the top war producer. Into this symbiotic relationship came the Final Solution; the central conflict of the play. The crushing inevitability of the Final Solution made for brutal dialogue as the two men negotiated the quotas for the trains, thereby sealing the fate of thousands. The infamous speech, “Mothers and fathers, give me your children under 10,” was delivered in the ghetto of Lodz.

At the start of rehearsals, I was having great difficulty finding the character. He felt so distant. He was a monster, yet he didn’t think of himself as a monster. How do I play that in such a way that the audience might see a part of themselves in Biebow? First, I had to find a part of Biebow in me. 

My first clue came as I was standing in line to buy a soda. A man in front of me pulled out some money and a five-dollar bill fell to the floor. Automatically, I reached down, picked it up and gave it to him. But as I walked back to rehearsal, I realized I could have made another choice. I could have simply stepped forward and covered the five-dollar bill with my foot and it would have been mine. Nothing grand, just a momentary lapse known only to me. A little secret, easily rationalized. No big deal. 

I realized then that my mistake had been in trying to swallow Biebow whole — when he was his most repulsive, when he was willing to do anything or say anything to get the sick and elderly on the train, get the children on the train, and finally, on the last train Rumkowski himself, who, when he stepped onto the platform in Auschwitz, was bludgeoned to death by the parents of the children he had sent before.

Easy first steps

In trying to portray the enormity of Biebow’s crime, I had assumed that his life journey started with the unimaginable, when actually it started years before with perhaps something as simple as stepping forward to conceal a five-dollar bill. One dishonest step repeated ten thousand times. By the time I met Biebow, morality had nothing to do with it. That struggle had ceased in him years earlier. His had been on a long journey to self-entrapment. A journey that begins with lying to others and ends with lying to yourself. 

That was the key to my performance and a life lesson for me, as well. How easy those first steps towards self-deception, and how frightening the outcome. And, so, every night in the “what if” world of a ghetto, I watched without guilt or remorse as babies were snatched from their mother’s arms and fathers shot. I ordered the deportation of children with no shame, and the audience wept. 

A year ago in Washington D.C., I played Donald Trump, or, to be exact, Trump 2.0: Articulate, charismatic, corrupt. Which is why I can stand before you tonight and tell you that you are witnessing the greatest speech, the most amazing dinner speech ever delivered in the history of humankind. And that includes the Sermon on the Mount, which a lot of people are saying took place in Utah. I don’t know, but a lot of people are saying it.

I fought long and hard about playing that character. Exercising the negative parts of oneself takes its toll, but in the end, I accepted the role and went in search of the Trump in me. I spent the next four months in the world of lying, bullying and gaslighting. And you know what? In a perverse way, it’s kind of fun. Trump is not that complicated. He doesn’t struggle with great philosophical or moral issues. 

In the parlance of a type of theater called commedia dell’arte, Trump is pantalone: ego-driven, greedy. His motivation is winning. Grab the last cookie on the plate. Push to the head of the line. Get through the door first. I win, you lose. And since nothing really matters to him except his own skin, he is completely unencumbered by the truth. He is shameless. Once I got on that wavelength, it was disturbingly easy. 

Every night I walked out on stage and poured a bucket of lies into a pool of clear water and the tendrils reached out and permeated everything until the audience couldn’t see the lies anymore because they were drowning in them. And if you’re drowning, I’m winning. One of the fascinating aspects of acting is that while your mind knows you are pretending, your body doesn’t. As I attacked and demeaned and scored even the most insignificant of wins, my body was experiencing it for real. The adrenaline and the cortisol were flowing. It was exciting. It was predatory. 

My fellow actors, however, were going through very different emotions. As far as they were concerned, they were being battered with their sunken chests, rounded shoulders staring at the ground waiting for the abuse to pass them by. And what did I learn? If you allow yourself to be shameless — truly shameless — then everything is easy. The rage, the lack of empathy, the lying, the entitlement, the denials, the grandiosity — exhilarating. Being shameless is powerful. 

I took a long, slow walk back to my apartment every night to shake it off. Only when I got past the Chick-fil-A on 14th Street, one of Trump’s favorite eateries, did I start to relax. So, my dear lawyer friend, no, actors are not professional liars. But, when we play them, we strive to portray them truthfully and insightfully so that you might see yourself; so that we all might see ourselves. 

Emotions are real

And just to be clear, actors ask permission. Both the audience and the actor enter the imaginary world together. Where everyone is aware that what is happening on stage or on the screen is only real in the emotions it evokes. Real liars don’t ask permission. And today, you can find them in the tens of thousands in the public square doing untold damage to a population that’s so turned upside down by 22 years of Fox News, social media and a president who lies so shamelessly that many of us are drowning. We are entering the realm of the unimaginable. 

Up until now, I have been describing characters in the extreme. Murderous, ruthless. But there was a world of dishonesty cloaked in righteousness that is just as perverse and just as dangerous. Three years ago, if the Christian fundamentalists of America had been told they would be voting en masse for a pathological liar, a serial philanderer, a man whose very name when placed in the same sentence with the phrase Christian values elicits laughter, they would have been insulted. As arbiters of all things moral and ethical, they would have been shocked. But that was then and this is now. And just like Biebow, when you’re told the solution comes from on high, you don’t want to get too caught up in the moral details. They just get in the way. Especially if you’ve been softened up since birth not to question, not to be curious, to simply believe. 

A few years ago, I toured the country performing “The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial.” This time, I played the good guy — Clarence Darrow. Many of our performances were in the Bible Belt, and at the end of every show there was a question-and-answer period. What an eye-opener! I began to realize I had entered the world of absolutes with no give-and-take and no room for doubt, a politicized world where the biblical stories were familiar, but the intentions behind their telling were very different. And yet the collective responses were always the same: “If science has produced a truth or a fact not contained in the bible, then destroy science and keep the bible.” No matter where we performed, that was the mantra. 

On a personal note, I want to make clear that I think many of the tenets of religion are beneficial, especially when they stress charity, tolerance, forgiveness and love. But when one’s religious beliefs leave the privacy of the home and are brought into the public square, I stand as a sentinel, as do many of you, to keep the public square free of ignorance, superstition and bigotry. 

In the words of Dudley Malone, defense counsel with Clarence Darrow: “Keep your bible. Keep it as your consolation, keep it as your guide, but keep it where it belongs — in the world of your conscience, in the world of theology.” 

Dover trial

During these last few months, I have been working as a writer with the transcripts of the “Intelligent Design” trial that took place in 2005 in Dover, Pennsylvania. Fundamentalist Christians took over the school board and within weeks injected their religious beliefs into the teaching of science in their public school. Some of the parents pushed back and sued the school board.

It was the Scopes Monkey Trial all over again, but this time with a twist. The defendants felt emboldened and justified in their actions. Moments after taking the stand, their religious veneer, their piety fell to the wayside. Moments after swearing to their God that they would tell the truth, they lied with abandon. They were shameless. Their lying was so egregious that at one point the judge said: “This is a federal courtroom. If you continue, I’m going to charge you with perjury.” 

Aided by their fundamentalist council, the Dover defendants charted a zigzag course of deception and dishonesty. Thankfully, the judge saw through it and identified Intelligent Design for the sham that it is — creationism, not science. And as for the defendants, he charged some of them with contempt. As you might expect, the defendants all left the courthouse feeling very misunderstood, very ill-used. They proclaimed themselves victims of an intolerant secular world. They didn’t feel shame or embarrassment by their behavior. They were lying for Jesus and they would do it again. They would say anything and do anything. I recognized the type. 

Shameless lying

I’ve often wondered what was their first step, their five-dollar bill. For many of them, I think it starts early and it’s very carefully orchestrated. I think it starts by telling the innocent kid, the curious kid who just wants to know what’s real, something as simple as, “Yes, he did. Jonah lived in the whale, he did. For three days he lived in a whale. It’s true.”  That response is certainly easier than explaining what an allegory is to an 8-year-old, but it has its risks. In Kentucky, I watched a Ken Ham wannabe preach shamelessly to his target audience of children under 10. He was working really hard that morning — hand puppets and lollipops. And the parents loved it. I felt sorry for the kids. Their first steps were being made for them. The seeds of ignorance, prejudice and superstition were being planted. 

A few days later at the University of Nebraska, I stood in a classroom of a hundred college kids as 80 of them raised their hands to bear witness that they believe the Earth was created on October 23rd, 4004 B.C., at 10 o’clock in the morning. “How do you know that?” I asked. Well, they didn’t exactly. Something about revealed truth and fossils and living in a whale. But mostly they didn’t know. Nor did they care to know. 

I’m told that having faith is believing without proof, without reason. I think you can have faith and keep your reason. I’ll go a step further: You must keep your reason, otherwise, you will lose your soul to liars, manipulators, cheats and demagogues. I’m not a liar, but I play them, and I don’t think of gullible as charming or quaint. I see it for what it is — a target of opportunity. And so do a lot of others who troll our political landscape. 

A young lady in West Virginia once told me that God was her bus driver. “What does that mean?” I asked. “It means I can sit at the back of my bus and party hardy because God is driving my bus.” 

I have a feeling that on the eve one of the most important elections of our lifetime, unbeknownst to her, a lot of people are driving her bus. And while our young lady has not been paying attention to where she’s going for a very long time, the micro-lies have been piling up, and for her, they are indistinguishable from the big lies. 

I fear that she is so ill-prepared to differentiate fact from fiction, truth from lies, that it’s but a few short steps to believing that separating children from their parents keeps us safe. That Central American mothers pushing strollers down a hot Mexican highway are a threat to our country. That freedom of religion somehow means you can discriminate against those who don’t share your beliefs. That telling the truth makes you an enemy of the people and that lying can’t be all that bad if your cause is good.

When so many are so willing to forsake reason in favor of faith, is it any wonder that our leaders embrace the unreasonable, the unimaginable? That’s why educating children to be curious is so important, why debunking the notion that morality is derived from a single book is so important, why speaking up when others remain silent is so important. 

As George Orwell said, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” That’s why organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation are so important. Because the greatest, most fundamental service we can do in this world is to keep truth alive. Thanks.

4th U.S. Circuit Court sides with FFRF

One lesson at Mercer County schools promoted creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has struck a big blow against religious intrusion in West Virginia’s secular public education system.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 17 decided in favor of Elizabeth Deal, a parent of a student, in a high-profile case involving bible classes in the Mercer County, W.Va., school system. Deal, along with FFRF, had last year challenged these proselytizing classes in federal court.

Bible indoctrination classes were taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years until this lawsuit. The original legal complaint has examples of the blatantly religious curriculum. 

One lesson promoted creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Students were asked to “picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”

Following the lawsuit, the classes were suspended by the district — a major victory for FFRF. However, the federal court then dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds due to the suspension, even though the bible classes could resume.

Deal filed an appeal before the 4th Circuit in March 2018. The appellate brief filed by Attorney Marc Schneider and FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott argued that Deal and her daughter could continue to pursue claims against the school district even though her daughter was attending a neighboring school system. The brief detailed the misery that Deal and her daughter had to undergo due to the bible course.

“Despite Elizabeth’s efforts to shield Jessica from the Christian teachings of BITS [Bible in the Schools], Jessica had direct, unwelcome contact with the classes,” it recounted. “Once Jessica was able to avoid the classes themselves, her peers began harassing her — going so far as to condemn her family to hell.” The brief also highlighted that the school’s Christian classes made Elizabeth and Jessica feel like outsiders in the community.

The 4th Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs’ perspective.

“If the district court were to enjoin the county from offering the BITS program to students in the future, Deal would no longer feel compelled to send Jessica to a neighboring school district to avoid what Deal views as state-sponsored religious instruction,” the appeals court stated.

The court also characterized the school system’s claims that the case had become both moot and not “ripe” for review as “meritless.”

The district court’s decision was reversed and remanded. Deal may now pursue an injunction against the bible classes.

FFRF rejoices over this triumph for secularism.

“We hope the school district will finally put an end to these indoctrinating bible classes — and to any attempts to bring them back,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “No family should suffer the way this family did just because it was unwilling to have religion forced upon it in a public school system.”

FFRF is the largest freethought association in North America, with 31,000 members all over the United States, including more than 200 in West Virginia.

Legal team on a roll in 2018

By Rebecca Markert

In 2017, FFRF’s legal team had its most productive year ever, and that roll continued throughout 2018. The legal team has had a triumphant winning streak since 2016, and in 2018 alone FFRF won six lawsuits, four of which were solid victories at the appellate level. 

We filed six new lawsuits, including:

• Against the city of Parkersburg, W.Va., over the Lord’s Prayer being recited at city council meetings.

• Against the state of Arkansas over the Ten Commandments display at the state Capitol (filed jointly with the American Humanist Association).

• Against the Wisconsin Department of Justice over its chaplaincy program.

• Against the IRS on behalf of Nonbelief Relief over preferential exemptions for churches from filing the 990 form.

• And two cases against government entities over open records requests violations. 

We are carrying over 11 ongoing lawsuits and are starting 2019 handling a record 17 lawsuits!

But litigation isn’t the only area where FFRF has seen significant victories. In 2018, FFRF’s nine in-house attorneys achieved roughly 315 nonlitigation victories after sending out more than 1,200 letters of complaint to government entities and officials demanding they keep religion out of government. The number of victories will continue to grow, as many complaints lodged last year will still have responses roll in this year. 

The number of letters does not include the many follow-up letters sent or the time FFRF’s legal staff spent on responding to questions from FFRF members and members of the general public. Last year, more than 3,500 state/church inquiries were addressed by FFRF’s legal intake team. 

The top 10 states (where FFRF sent the most letters of complaint) were:

1. Texas

2. Tennessee

3. Ohio

4. Georgia

5. Florida (tie)

5. Kentucky (tie)

7. Wisconsin

8. Alabama

9. Arkansas

10. Missouri

Once again, religion in our public schools topped the issue areas FFRF’s legal team addressed in 2018. Letters of complaint about prayer in schools, religious assemblies, religious clubs led by teachers or in elementary schools, and bible distributions were mainstays of the legal team’s work this past year. These are also the complaints our team prioritizes, given the young age of the students involved, their impressionability, and that they’re a captive audience for these proselytizing school officials.

Another interesting topic dominating our work this year was social media. This new and burgeoning area of state/church complaints involves religious postings by government entities on official government social media pages. Case law is still pretty scant in this area, but it’s clear to FFRF that these postings violate the Constitution. These violations come in many forms, including Facebook postings, tweets and viral videos. 

The top 10 issue areas:

1. Religion in public schools

2. Social media

3. Religious displays

4. Government prayer

5. National Day of Prayer

6. Government funding to religion

7. Holiday displays

8. Crosses

9. Elections

10. Prisons

FFRF’s legal team also submitted five amicus briefs (also called friend- of-the-court briefs) this past year. These added FFRF’s voice to high profile cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Trump v. Hawaii at the U.S. Supreme Court. We also argued in defense of “no aid” provisions in state constitutions in a case before the Colorado Supreme Court involving a school voucher program (Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District). FFRF also argued in a brief to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that a Christian school does not have a free speech right to take over a public address system for prayer at state championship games in Cambridge Christian School v. Florida High School Athletic Association

FFRF, joined by Americans United, filed a brief in support of a humanist in custody in Nevada who is trying to gain benefits for his humanist group just as any other “faith group” would receive at the correctional center.

Finally, FFRF’s legal department marked its 10-year anniversary in October 2018.  Since FFRF first hired me in 2008, we’ve grown considerably. Kristina Daleiden joined the legal team as a second legal assistant in September 2018. She’s been with FFRF as a program assistant since 2017. 

This brings our legal team to a total of 11 full-time staff: Seven permanent staff attorneys, two legal fellows and two legal assistants.

Rebecca Markert is FFRF’s legal director.

9th Circuit reaffirms FFRF win

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 26 reaffirmed FFRF’s resounding victory against prayer at school board meetings in the Chino Valley School District (Calif.), by denying a petition to rehear the case.

FFRF, along with 22 parents, students and employees of the district, filed suit to challenge the practice of prayer at Chino Valley School Board’s meetings, which resembled church revivals more than public meetings. These meetings opened with prayer and regularly included board members reading from the bible and proselytizing.

In July, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of FFRF, declaring the inclusion of prayer at these school board meetings unconstitutional. The district filed an en banc petition soon after, which was denied by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit on Dec. 26. An en banc petition seeks to have the full court review the decision by the three-judge panel.

The denial of the petition does not come as a surprise, as the panel’s unanimous decision was sound and correctly ruled that Chino Valley’s inclusion of prayer and religious proselytization at board meetings is illegal.

“The board’s prayer policy and practice violate the Establishment Clause,” the panel wrote. “We hold that the Chino Valley Board’s prayer policy lacks a secular legislative purpose and therefore, under Lemon, violates the Establishment Clause. Accordingly, we uphold the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Foundation on this claim,” ruled M. Margaret McKeown, Kim McLane Wardlaw, circuit judges, and Wiley Y. Daniel, district judge for Colorado, sitting by designation.

Then-Board President James Na injected Christianity into many of his official statements to parents and students at meetings. For instance, at one meeting, Na “urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him,” after which another board member closed with a reading of Psalm 143.

FFRF is pleased with the court’s decision not to rehear this case and subsequently continue to frivolously spend more taxpayer money battling well-settled law.

“Reason — and the Constitution — have once again prevailed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This reaffirms the court’s message to the other school boards out there that they cannot use their public position to impose religion on other people’s children and parents.”

U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal already ordered the school board to pay more than $200,000 for the initial case. Now costs and fees associated with the appeal will add significantly to that number. FFRF and the plaintiffs are represented by Attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert and FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel. The case is FFRF v. Chino Valley Unified School District is No. 16-55425.

FFRF ad runs in The New York Times

FFRF NY Times Ad

FFRF placed a whimsical ad with a timely message in a Sunday New York Times, in honor of Bill of Rights Day — the anniversary of its Dec. 15, 1791, ratification.

The full-page ad appeared in the main news section on Dec. 16.

The colorful ad, headlined “Joy to the World . . . A Bill of Rights is born,” is full of gentle seasonal notes. The graphic portrays FFRF’s Bill of Rights “nativity scene” by artist Jacob Fortin. 

FFRF’s advertising is made possible because of, and thanks to, our kind donors. 

Heads Up poetry column

By Philip Appleman

Seductions as countless as crosses,

as icons, none of it ever

surprising, not even

the stare of the sky

keeping score. The prize for yielding,

for giving in to paradise,

is laying down the awful burden

of mind: surrender

rings from the steeples and calls

from the minarets and temples.

But challenges sing

in the sway of treetops,

in the flutter of sparrows,

in chirring and stalking,

in waking and ripening—let

there be light enough, and

everywhere backbone stiffens

in saplings and clover. Praises, then,

to sunfish and squirrels,

blessings to bugs. Turning our backs

on the bloody altars,

we cherish each other, living here

in this brave world

with our neighbors, the earthworms,

and our old friends, the ferns

and the daisies.

Convention moment: Hewetson honored for his dedication to FFRF

Dick shows off his “Damn-It Doll” to the convention audience. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Dick Hewetson shares a hug with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor surprised longtime and Lifetime Member Dick Hewetson at FFRF’s convention in November with a small gift for his service to FFRF. Here is her introduction:

This is not on the schedule, but it is a very deserved recognition. I want to introduce you to Dick Hewetson. Many of you know him. Before The Clergy Project, he and Dan [Barker] and a couple other folks comprised a very elite group of former ministers who are now nonbelievers. 

Dick has hardly ever missed a convention. This is his 37th. He’s from San Francisco and he’s been on our board or been one of our state reps forever. We love him and want to introduce you to him. 

We have a memento for you. It’s just a thingamabob and it catches the light, and it says, “With love to Dick Hewetson, FFRF 2018.” 

By Dick Hewetson

I wasn’t planning on this, but I did bring a prop. It has orange hair and a red tie and it was given to me by a wonderful atheist friend. It’s called the “Damn-it Doll.” Whenever you’re upset, you go [smacks the doll on his chair] “Damn it!” and it makes you feel very good.

Anyway, I do want to say something. The real honor for me is having been a member of this organization since 1978.

And the conventions have been the highlight of my year, except for a few times when I couldn’t make it. Last year, I got part way. I made it to Minnesota [on the way to Madison] and contracted pneumonia and had to come back here to San Francisco. 

I remember the first convention I went to. I went to Madison with my dear departed partner David Irwin, who was also a Life Member. He took me kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to go, but I went — and it changed my life. 

I think there were fewer than 50 people at that convention. Annie Laurie was a college student, I believe. And her dear, dear mother, Anne Gaylor, had an office in Madison, but it was the dining room table of the Gaylor house. So, I have seen this organization move from then to what we have now, which is just phenomenal. I won’t call it a miracle. [Laughs]

When I went to Madison that first year, I was recovering from having been an Episcopal priest and I had left the church. But beyond that, I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. It was in Madison those first few years that I realized my whole life I’d been an atheist. But hadn’t realized it because it was a bad word. Anyway, thank you so much.

Meet a Member: Ex-priest one of FFRF’s longest-term members

Dick Hewetson (right) and his partner John.

Name: Richard “Dick” Hewetson.

Where I live: Mountain View, Calif. Recently moved from San Francisco.

Where and when I was born: 1930 in suburban Chicago.

Family: Life partner John (a boat person from Vietnam), one sister, many nieces and nephews, grandnieces,  grandnephews and great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews.

Education: Bachelor of arts from University of Minnesota; master of divinity from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

Occupation: Retired. Worked for state of Minnesota. Before that, I was an Episcopal priest.

How I got where I am today: That’s a long story. For health reasons I left the parish ministry in 1968. In 1972, I determined that I had to be open about being gay. As a “good Christian,” I had led a celibate life. 

In coming to terms with my sexuality, I also realized that I no longer believed in Christianity. In 1978, I attended the first convention of FFRF. Within a few years, I realized that I was an atheist. 

Where I’m headed: At age 89, I have no idea, but it certainly isn’t heaven!

Person in history I admire and why: There are so many, but I have to say Anne Nicol Gaylor. What she did in her quiet dignified way for women and the resulting Freedom From Religion Foundation is truly remarkable.

A quotation I like: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil, that takes religion.” — Steven Weinberg 

These are a few of my favorite things: Reading nonfiction, bridge, trains, theater and fine dining.

These are not: Being lectured by religious people. Christians who don’t know the bible or are illiterate about theology.

My doubts about religion started: Very early in life, but I became involved with church in my adolescence.

Before I die: I’d like to ride high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles or from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Fat chance!

Ways I promote freethought: I have introduced many people to FFRF. I introduce my doubt about religion in normal conversation.

How do John (a Roman Catholic) and I get along perfectly?: Through love and respect.

What is my legacy?: Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis. Founded by my late partner and FFRF member David Irwin and me in 1983. It is the second-largest and second-oldest LGBT lending library in the United States.