FFRF thanks 24 new Lifers, 3 After-Lifers, 3 Immortals

FFRF thanks and welcomes our 24 new Lifetime Members, three After-Life Members and three Immortals.

The three new After-Lifers are Charles Bingham, Philip Lentz and Sherron Lentz. An After-Life Membership is a $5,000 membership level for those who want their donation to “live on” after them.

The latest $1,000 Lifetime Members are Jim Asa, William Atkinson, George P. (Buzz) Avery, Susannah Barbee, Chris Benedict, Andrew J. Croteau, Bobbie Cunha, Allen Dines, David Gonce (gift from After-Lifer David “Chris” Allen), Austin R. Green, Mary M. Grimaldi, Art Isbell, Marc-Andre Lachance (second Life Membership), Karen Nackard, Paul M. Nichols (gift from lifer Joanie Barker Nichols), Marsha Petry, Gordon Purser, John Salow, Paul D. Singleton, Michael Seaman, Mason Tikkanen, Teressa Tooth, Priscilla Wegars and David Werdegar.    

States represented are Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and two from Canada (British Columbia and Ontario).

FFRF has also received word that three members have become Immortals: Sherron Lentz, Stewart Charles Singletary and Scott Timm. The Immortals category is a donation designation for those members who have contacted FFRF to report they have made provisions for FFRF in their estate planning.

Special thanks to all!

Freethought Today caption contest winner

Congratulations to Jay Ballinger of West Virginia for winning FFRF’s caption contest from the January/February issue, voted on by staff members. For his winning entry, he gets an FFRF T-shirt!

The winning caption was: The road to nowhere.

Top runners-up include:

This is your last warning. — Booth Harned of Missouri.

Enter at your own risk — Phillip Gold of California and (separately) Marcia Yeager of Maryland.

The preacher kept asking for a sign. — Judy Saint of California.

Watch for falling standards. — Freya Harris of Georgia.

Thanks to all who participated. If you see any pictures or images that you think would be good for a caption contest, please email them to [email protected].

Caption contest for March

They Said What? (March 2019)

We don’t think he’s suitable as a practicing Muslim to be vice chair because he’d be the representative for all Republicans in Tarrant County, and not all Republicans in Tarrant County think Islam is safe or acceptable in the U.S., in Tarrant County, and in the TCGOP.

Tarrant County (Texas) GOP precinct chair Dorrie O’Brien, in a Facebook post, commenting on Shahid Shafi, a longtime Republican who was appointed vice chair of the Tarrant County Republican Party. The party took a vote on whether, as a Muslim, Shafi should remain as vice chair. The board overwhelmingly approved his position.

The New York Times, 1-10-19


This is not putting God back into our schools. It’s my opinion that we need to put God back into our schools, but this isn’t doing that.

Nebraska state Sen. Steve Erdman, who proposed a bill that would require schools to display “In God We Trust” signs or posters in classrooms or common areas “where each student shall be able to see and read it each day school is in session.”

Lincoln Journal-Star, 1-20-19


I pray and I tell our team when we get together, we have an opportunity to join in with what God is doing in Oklahoma.

Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, speaking at his “Inaugural Prayer Service.”

Right Wing Watch, 1-15-19


To my knowledge there is no case law that prohibits the depiction of three non-Christian Middle Eastern men on camels that are seeking wisdom. Our display has a legitimate secular purpose.

Superintendent Peggy Mathis, claiming that the display of the “three wise men” on top of Newaygo Elementary School in Michigan is not religious in nature.

The Friendly Atheist, 12-5-18


If the commissioner of education wants to fix education in the state of New York, he can go to the public schools and fix the education being offered there. The Jewish nation will not bow or give in to the wicked, not even the commissioner of education. We will go out to war against the commissioner in every way.

Satmar Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, in a speech translated from Yiddish, in defiance of the state’s ruling that the New York City Department of Education is giving yeshivas three years to clean up their act, demanding that the religious schools ensure a curriculum “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools.

New York Post, 12-2-18


The bible is an integral part of our society and deserves a place in the classroom.

North Dakota state Rep. Aaron McWilliams, a co-sponsor of a bill that would require the state’s public high schools to offer an elective on bible studies.

USA Today, 1-23-19


Numerous states introducing bible literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!

President Donald Trump.

Twitter, 1-28-19


I don’t need words on a piece of paper. God made us all equal.

Virginia House of Delegates member Margaret B. Ransone, explaining why she was voting against a bill that would grant equal rights to people regardless of sex.

The Friendly Atheist, 1-24-19


With faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris during her formal presidential campaign launch.

CNN, 1-27-19


I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president, and that’s why he’s there.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, president Trump’s press secretary, in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody and Jennifer Wishon.

Christian Broadcasting Network, 1-20-19


It is incredible, but not surprising, that the Democrats would try to remove God from committee proceedings in one of their first acts in the majority. They really have become the party of Karl Marx.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, on a proposal that would eliminate the “so help me God” reference from the oath administered to witnesses testifying before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Fox News, 1-30-19 


I don’t think we’re going to listen to her on much of anything, particularly not on matters we’re gonna leave in the hands of a much, much higher authority, and certainly not listen to the freshman congresswoman on when the world may end.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, president Trump’s press secretary, referencing God while responding to a statement by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that the United States needs to act on climate change before it is too late.

Fox News, 1-22-19


The idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable. There is no right in our Constitution to have sex with whoever or whatever you want in the privacy of your own home (or barn).

Brian Hagedorn, candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a letter he wrote in 2005 to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

NewCivilRightsMovement.com, 1-3-19

Julian Borger: The evangelical grip on Trump administration

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited the Cathedral of the Nativity in Cairo on Jan. 10. (State Department photo)

This article first appeared in The Guardian on Jan. 11 and is reprinted with permission.

By Julian Borger

In setting out the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, one of the first things Mike Pompeo made clear to his audience in Cairo is that he had come to the region as “as an evangelical Christian.”

In his speech at the American University, Pompeo said that in his state department office: “I keep a bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”

The secretary of state’s primary message in Cairo was that the United States was ready once more to embrace conservative Middle Eastern regimes, no matter how repressive, if they made common cause against Iran.

His second message was religious. In his visit to Egypt, he came across as much as a preacher as a diplomat. He talked about “America’s innate goodness” and marveled at a newly built cathedral as “a stunning testament to the Lord’s hand.”

The desire to erase Barack Obama’s legacy, Donald Trump’s instinctive embrace of autocrats, and the private interests of the Trump Organization have all been analyzed as driving forces behind the administration’s foreign policy.

Policy consequences

The gravitational pull of white evangelicals has been less visible. But it could have far-reaching policy consequences. Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo both cite evangelical theology as a powerful motivating force.

Just as he did in Cairo, Pompeo called on the congregation of a Kansan megachurch three years ago to join a fight of good against evil.

“We will continue to fight these battles,” the then congressman said at the Summit Church in Wichita. “It is a never-ending struggle . . . until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

For Pompeo’s audience, the rapture invoked an apocalyptical Christian vision of the future, a final battle between good and evil, and the second coming of Jesus Christ, when the faithful will ascend to heaven and the rest will go to hell.

For many evangelical Christians in the United States, one of the key preconditions for such a moment is the gathering of the world’s Jews in a greater Israel between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It is a belief, known as premillenial dispensationalism or Christian Zionism – and it has very real potential consequences for U.S. foreign policy.

It directly colors views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and indirectly, attitudes towards Iran, broader Middle East geopolitics and the primacy of protecting Christian minorities. In his Cairo visit, Pompeo heaped praise on Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for building the new cathedral, but made no reference to the 60,000 political prisoners the regime is thought to be holding, or its routine use of torture.

Pompeo is an evangelical Presbyterian, who says he was “brought to Jesus” by other cadets at the West Point military academy in the 1980s.

“He knows best how his faith interacts with his political beliefs and the duties he undertakes as secretary of state,” said Stan van den Berg, senior pastor of Pompeo’s church in Wichita in an email. “Suffice to say, he is a faithful man, he has integrity, he has a compassionate heart, a humble disposition and a mind for wisdom.”

As Donald Trump finds himself ever more dependent on them for his political survival, the influence of Pence, Pompeo and the ultraconservative white evangelicals who stand behind them is likely to grow.

“Many of them relish the second coming because for them it means eternal life in heaven,” Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University said. “There is a palpable danger that people in high position who subscribe to these beliefs will be readier to take us into a conflict that brings on Armageddon.”

Chesnut argues that Christian Zionism has become the “majority theology” among white U.S. evangelicals, who represent about a quarter of the adult population. In a 2015 poll, 73 percent of evangelical Christians said events in Israel are prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Respondents were not asked specifically whether their believed developments in Israel would actually bring forth the apocalypse.

Complicated relationship

The relationship between evangelicals and the president himself is complicated.

Trump himself embodies the very opposite of a pious Christian ideal. Trump is not a churchgoer. He is profane, twice divorced, who has boasted of sexually assaulting women. But white evangelicals have embraced him.

Eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016, and his popularity among them remains in the 70s. While other white voters have flaked away in the first two years of his presidency, white evangelicals have become his last solid bastion.

Some leading evangelicals see Trump as a latter-day King Cyrus, the sixth-century B.C. Persian emperor who liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity.

The comparison is made explicitly in “The Trump Prophecy,” a religious film screened in 1,200 cinemas around the country in October, depicting a retired firefighter who claims to have heard God’s voice, saying: “I’ve chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this.”

Lance Wallnau, a self-proclaimed prophet who features in the film, has called Trump “God’s Chaos Candidate” and a “modern Cyrus.”

“Cyrus is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful,” said Katherine Stewart, who writes extensively about the Christian Right.

She added that they welcome his readiness to break democratic norms to combat perceived threats to their values and way of life.

“The Christian nationalist movement is characterized by feelings of persecution and, to some degree, paranoia — a clear example is the idea that there is somehow a ‘war on Christmas,’” Stewart said. “People in those positions will often go for authoritarian leaders who will do whatever is necessary to fight for their cause.”

Trump was raised as a Presbyterian, but leaned increasingly towards evangelical preachers as he began contemplating a run for the presidency.

Trump’s choice of Pence as a running mate was a gesture of his commitment, and four of the six preachers at his inauguration were evangelicals, including Paula White and Franklin Graham, the eldest son of the preacher Billy Graham, who defended Trump through his many sex scandals, pointing out: “We are all sinners.”

Having lost control of the House of Representatives in November, and under ever-closer scrutiny for his campaign’s links to the Kremlin, Trump’s instinct has been to cleave ever closer to his most loyal supporters.

Almost alone among major demographic groups, white evangelicals are overwhelmingly in favor of Trump’s border wall, which some preachers equate with fortifications in the bible.

Evangelical links have also helped shape alliances in the Trump presidency. As secretary of state, Pompeo has been instrumental in forging links with other evangelical leaders in the hemisphere, including Guatemala’s Jimmy Morales and the new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro. Both have undertaken to follow the U.S. lead in moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem.

Trump’s evangelical clout

Trump’s order to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv — over the objections of his foreign policy and national security team — is a striking example of evangelical clout.

The move was also pushed by Las Vegas billionaire and Republican mega-donor, Sheldon Adelson, but the orchestration of the embassy opening ceremony last May reflected the audience Trump was trying hardest to appease.

The two pastors given the prime speaking slots were both ardent Christian Zionists: Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor on record as saying Jews, like Muslims and Mormons, are bound for hell; and John Hagee, a televangelist and founder of Christians United for Israel (Cufi), who once said that Hitler and the Holocaust were part of God’s plan to get Jews back to Israel, to pave the way for the Rapture.

For many evangelicals, the move cemented Trump’s status as the new Cyrus, who oversaw the Jews’ return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple.

The tightening of the evangelical grip on the administration has also been reflected in a growing hostility to the United Nations, often portrayed as a sinister and godless organization.

Since former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced her departure in October and Pompeo took more direct control, the U.S. mission has become increasingly combative, blocking references to gender and reproductive health in U.N. documents.

Some theologians also see an increasingly evangelical tinge to the administration’s broader Middle East policies, in particular its fierce embrace of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, the lack of balancing sympathy for the Palestinians — and the insistent demonization of the Iranian government.

Evangelicals, Chesnut said, “now see the United States locked into a holy war against the forces of evil who they see as embodied by Iran.”

In a speech at the end of a regional tour, Pompeo reprised the theme, describing Iran as a “cancerous influence.”

This zeal for a defining struggle has thus far found common cause with more secular hawks such as the national security adviser, John Bolton, and Trump’s own drive to eliminate the legacy of Barack Obama, whose signature foreign policy achievement was the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which Trump abrogated last May.

In conversations with European leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May, Trump has reportedly insisted he has no intention of going to war with Iran. His desire to extricate U.S. troops from Syria marks a break with hawks, religious and secular, who want to contain Iranian influence there.

But the logic of his policy of ever-increasing pressure, coupled with unstinting support for Israel and Saudi Arabia, makes confrontation with Iran ever more likely.

One of the most momentous foreign policy questions of 2019 is whether Trump can veer away from the collision course he has helped set in motion — perhaps conjuring up a last-minute deal — or instead welcome conflict as a distraction from his domestic woes, and sell it to the faithful as a crusade.

Julian Borger is a British journalist who is the world affairs editor for The Guardian.

In the News (March 2019)

Pope admits nuns were sexually abused

For the first time, Pope Francis said publicly that the Catholic Church had faced a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.

Nuns have accused clerics of sexual abuse in India, Africa, Latin America and in Italy, and a Vatican magazine in January mentioned nuns having abortions or giving birth to the children of priests. Francis hadn’t discussed the issue until he was asked to comment during a news conference on Feb. 5.

“It’s true,” Francis said. “There are priests and bishops who have done that.”


300 priests accused of sex abuse in Texas

The Roman Catholic Church in Texas on Jan. 31 released the names of almost 300 priests who it said had been credibly accused of child sex abuse over nearly eight decades.

It was the latest in a wave of disclosures by the church as it faces a series of federal and state investigations into its handling of sexual misconduct.

The names were posted online by all 15 of the state’s dioceses and followed the publication in August of a bombshell report on clerical sex abuse by the Pennsylvania attorney general that has spurred investigations of the church in more than a dozen other states.


380 Southern Baptists accused of sex abuse

More than 700 victims have been sexually abused by about 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers since 1998, according to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. 

“Ultimately, we compiled information on 380 credibly accused officials in Southern Baptist churches, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers,” the newspapers said. “We verified that about 220 had been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals.”

According to the report, of those 220, 90 are in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders.


New Jersey dioceses release names of abusers

The names of nearly 200 priests and deacons who were accused of sexually abusing children were released Feb. 13 by New Jersey’s five Roman Catholic dioceses.

“In an effort to do what is right and just, we are publishing the names of diocesan clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Newark,” said Newark Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Tobin in a letter. The Dioceses of Camden, Trenton, Paterson and Metuchen also released their own lists.

The lists follow many similar records of names published by dioceses across the country recently. Of the 188 names released, more than 100 are deceased.


N.Y. diocese names 108 priests in abuse cases

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., released the names of 108 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors during the diocese’s 166-year-history.

It said about two-thirds of the people on the list are dead. The diocese is one of the largest in the country.

Advocates who track abuse cases said it also roughly doubled the number of suspected abusers they had been aware of in the diocese.

The diocese in 2018 reached a $27.5 million settlement with four men who said they were abused as boys by a Catholic school teacher between 2003 and 2009.


Ex-cardinal McCarrick defrocked for sex abuse

The Vatican said Feb. 16 it had defrocked former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

He is now the highest-ranking church official to be expelled from the priesthood for sex abuse.

A church tribunal found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis has approved the ruling and there is no possibility of appeal, the statement said.

McCarrick, 88, resigned his post as cardinal last year after an investigation found evidence he had molested a minor altar boy almost a half-century ago.

Another man told The New York Times that he was in his 20s when McCarrick abused him in the 1980s. McCarrick was a bishop in New Jersey at the time.


Vatican official quits after abuse accusation

A Vatican official who handles sexual abuse cases for the Catholic Church quit two months after being accused of sexual abuse.

On Jan. 28, Hermann Geissler resigned from his position as chief of staff in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a body that handles discipline in sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church. Geissler maintained his innocence but said he was resigning to protect the church.


Supreme Court blocks abortion law in La.

On Feb. 7, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the Supreme Court’s liberals to block a Louisiana law that opponents say would close most of the state’s abortion clinics and leave it with only one doctor eligible to perform the procedure.

The justices may yet consider whether the 2014 law — requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — unduly burdens women’s access to abortion.

The Louisiana law has never been enforced, and the Supreme Court in 2016 found a nearly identical Texas law to be unconstitutional.

“The Supreme Court has stepped in under the wire to protect the rights of Louisiana women,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the law’s challengers.

But the legal challenge isn’t over, so Roberts’ position on the merits remains to be seen.


Lawyers: Kim Davis must pay legal bills

Lawyers for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin say former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis should be held responsible for nearly $225,000 in legal fees and court costs incurred by couples who sued her in 2015 when she refused to issue marriage licenses because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments about who should bear the case’s expenses.

A district judge ruled in 2017 that the couples suing for marriage licenses clearly prevailed and that the state of Kentucky must pay their fees and costs.

Bevin appealed that ruling, hoping to hand the bill instead to the Rowan County clerk’s office. Davis acted alone, without any state support, the governor’s lawyers told the 6th Circuit in briefs ahead of the oral arguments.


Iowa abortion restriction ruled unconstitutional

An Iowa state judge on Jan. 22 struck down the state’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” law, declaring one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans unconstitutional.

The law, signed in May, would ban doctors from performing most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for every Iowan who has ever needed or will need a safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s medical director, Dr. Jill Meadows, said.


Waiver granted to Christian ministry

The Trump administration said Jan. 22 it was granting a Christian ministry in South Carolina permission to participate in the federally funded foster-care program, even though the group will work only with Christian families.

Last year, the South Carolina Department of Social Services learned of Miracle Hill’s policy, notified the group it was in violation of federal law and downgraded it to a provisional license. Gov. Henry McMaster then asked Health and Human Services for a waiver.

HHS said it would grant this waiver, days before the group’s provisional license was set to expire. The department argued that the Obama-era regulation was ill-conceived and that some of its requirements “are not reflected” in the underlying statute.


Supreme Court denies Muslim imam at execution

The Supreme Court on Feb. 7 allowed the execution of a Muslim inmate in Alabama whose request that his imam be present had been denied.

The vote was 5 to 4, with the four more liberal members of the court in dissent. The majority offered little reasoning but said that the inmate, Domineque Ray, had waited too long to object. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the dissenters, said the majority was “profoundly wrong.”

She wrote, “a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion — whether Islam, Judaism or any other — he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side.”

In June, the Supreme Court declined to reconsider the appeal.


Montana ends tuition tax credit program

The Montana Supreme Court invalidated the state’s tuition tax credit in December, ending a program that allowed taxpayers to fund scholarships for private schools, most of which are religious-based.

Taxpayers could donate up to $150 toward scholarships for students attending private schools – the majority of which are religious in Montana – and then receive a $150 credit on their tax bills.

The Montana Department of Revenue determined the program unlawfully aided religion-based schools.

Latin cross dishonors freethinking veterans

A huge Christian cross on public land in Maryland is massively disrespectful to nonreligious Americans, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and four other secular groups are contending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The friend-of-the-court brief in support of the American Humanist Association’s case before the Supreme Court was filed Jan. 30 by FFRF, the Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, and the Secular Coalition for America.

The Supreme Court will be holding oral arguments on Feb. 27 in the challenge of a major 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals victory that the American Humanist Association obtained in October 2017. The appeals court affirmed that a mega-cross, which was erected as a war memorial in Bladensburg, Md., is unconstitutional. It held that the 40-foot-tall cross “excessively entangles the government in religion” because the cross is the “core symbol of Christianity” and “breaches” the constitutional wall dividing state and church. The petitioners challenging this ruling are the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the American Legion.

The Supreme Court needs to keep in mind the rights and sensibilities of the large disbelieving portion of the U.S. population while making its decision, the secular groups urge in their joint amicus brief. As secular and humanist organizations that promote freedom of conscience for those who do not practice religion, the groups’ brief offers a unique viewpoint on government display of religious symbols and the exclusion of religious minorities and nonbelievers.

The government’s use of prominent religious symbols serves to stigmatize, marginalize and diminish that large portion of citizens who exercise their constitutional right not to believe or practice a religion. These same trends are present in the U.S. military. In 2017, more than 30 percent of the active duty population of the American military did not affiliate with any religion. The five secular groups note that those soldiers risk their lives to defend our country. So, when we purport to honor them, why would we do so in a manner that disrespects their nonbelief?

“The ‘First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court, the brief observes.

The brief asks the court to imagine if the shoe were on the other foot: A Christian who takes for granted being surrounded by Latin crosses and other Christian symbols might well think twice about seeing an Islamic crescent or Wiccan pentangle or atheist atom on a prominent government building, display or monument, especially one purporting to honor the sacrifice of those with different religious views.

When deciding whether the Establishment Clause permits the government to use the Latin cross to collectively honor fallen soldiers, the historical practices of the U.S. military reveal that the military has scrupulously avoided using sectarian symbols, such as Latin crosses, to mark the graves of soldiers who practice a different religion.

The secular groups write: “This understanding requires no logical leap: A Latin cross is unmistakably ‘the preeminent symbol of Christianity,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. solicitor general and others are asking the court to disregard the harm to nonbelievers from the government’s use of Christian symbols, arguing that there cannot be an Establishment Clause violation without a showing of coercion.

Establishment Clause principles have long prevented government from stigmatizing nonbelievers. And those principles are particularly salient today, because tens of millions of Americans identify with no religion.

That’s why FFRF and four other like-minded organizations are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the ruling of the 4th Circuit. A judgment to the contrary would dishonor the innumerable soldiers without belief who have fought and died for our nation.

The fate of the 40-foot cross in Bladensburg, Md., will be decided by the Supreme Court. FFRF has filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing the American Humanist Association’s case to have it removed. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

FFRF chides new governors over sectarian events

It was an inauspicious start to the new terms of several governors around the country, as they made references to God or held worship services as part of the official inaugural celebrations.

FFRF urged each of these governors, in writing, that the governor’s offices in these states honor our secular form of government and keep divisive and unnecessary religion out of state-sponsored events.

Ohio

An overdose of bibles at the new Ohio governor’s swearing in caused FFRF to be concerned about the constitutional health of the Buckeye State.

Gov. Mike DeWine chose to be officially sworn on Jan. 14 in at a religious ceremony held in his home, with Christian hymns, prayers, and an overemphasis on religion that included swearing in on not one, not two, but nine bibles.

This conveyed a fealty not to the United States, but rather to DeWine’s own religious beliefs, FFRF asserts. Instead of swearing in on nine bibles, it would have been far more appropriate for DeWine to swear in on the U.S. Constitution, a godless and entirely secular document, whose only references to religion are exclusionary.

Oklahoma

Newly inaugurated Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt had not even been in office one week before violating the Constitution he took an oath to uphold.

The day after his inauguration, Stitt and his wife attended an Inaugural prayer service at the First Baptist Church of Moore. During the service, he reportedly declared his mission as a governor to be a religious mission, to “join in with what God is doing in Oklahoma.”

Then, Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt followed with similarly troublesome statements, telling Christians to use their position in elected office to convert people to Christianity: “We are God’s kingdom here on Earth. It is our call to go out into our state and save people and bring people to Him.”

South Dakota

On Jan. 6 — her first full day as governor of South Dakota — Gov. Kristi Noem sponsored a church service in the Capitol rotunda. The event was billed as an “Inaugural Worship Service with Governor Noem,” explicitly tying this religious event to her inauguration and public office. Despite assurances that “all [were] welcome,” this event made no attempt at being an “interfaith” service; every aspect was decidedly Christian in nature.

The service featured Christian music, a full sermon by a pastor, and multiple group prayers. One of these prayers, led by a woman who identified herself as the new governor’s family friend, endorsed a Christian nationalist vision for South Dakota. She even pivoted from Christian nationalism to exorcism, praying that “any demon that may try to come in this place is kicked out.”

“We hope that you can see how your endorsement of an event at which attendees were asked to pray that ‘the Holy Spirit absolutely takes over every corner and every crevice of this Capitol and this state’ sent an unmistakable message to all nonreligious South Dakotans ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community,’” FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote to the governor, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court. “We urge you to focus on the secular business of governing, and leave church services where they belong — in a church.”

Tennessee

Tennessee Gov.-elect Bill Lee sold tickets to a government-sponsored religious service under the guise of it being the Inaugural Ceremony. Media reported the Jan. 19 event as a “star-studded prayer service at the Ryman Auditorium.”

The governor-elect’s website sold tickets to the event, offering those who pay $7,500 “reserved section seating for two at the Inaugural swearing-in ceremony and the worship service.”

Wisconsin

The new governor in FFRF’s home state started his tenure with a major state/church misstep, causing FFRF to formally complain.

On Jan. 7, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ Inaugural — the first state-sponsored event with him at the helm — included religious (almost completely Christian) content that led local FFRF members who were in attendance to feel immediately excluded. For example, the ceremony opened with an invocation by the Rev. Willie Brisco that plainly conveyed a Christian message.

The occasion also included a concert of Christian songs by William Reed III Community Choir, a gospel choir, featuring repetitive theological lyrics about worshiping Jesus.

Even the ordinarily banal inclusion of “God bless” by various speakers contributed to an overall impression that the event was intended mainly as a celebration for Wisconsin Christians.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

FFRF, others decry Christian Nationalist drive

Project Blitz

A major stealth campaign to legally enshrine Christianity in states all over the country is being forced into the public eye, thanks to dozens of leading constitutionally minded groups, such as the FFRF.

“Project Blitz” is a coordinated national effort by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and others to incorporate Christian nationalism in state laws across the country. It promotes a three-tiered framework of state bills intended to incrementally redefine religious freedom to tear down the separation of church and state, with each tier laying the groundwork for the next.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, FFRF and the 42 other organizations, which range from American Atheists to Muslim Advocates, maintain in a joint statement spotlighting Project Blitz.

The separation of church and state . . . is the linchpin of religious freedom and a hallmark of our democracy,” the statement asserts. “It ensures that each person has the right to choose whether to practice a religion or be nonreligious without pressure from the government.”

But Project Blitz is out to breach the wall of separation.

“An alarming effort is underway to harness the power of the government to impose its faith onto everyone else, including our public school students,” the statement contends. “This effort seeks to transform religious freedom into a sword that can be used to harm others, undermining important civil rights protections and health care access, especially for women, LGBTQ people, those of minority faiths, and the nonreligious.”

Therefore, FFRF and other secular organizations urge legislators across the nation to oppose Project Blitz and similar efforts. America is stronger when the government gives no set of religions or beliefs more power or preference than any other — and when everyone is welcome and treated equally under the law.

FFRF is proud to be part of this combined initiative, organized by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to preserve our secular values and ensure that the nefarious “Project Blitz” project to undermine our Constitution doesn’t succeed.

Michigan pulls out of three FFRF lawsuits

Dana Nessel

Michigan is withdrawing itself from opposing three of FFRF’s cases under the leadership of its new Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The state had previously been part of a group led by conservative attorneys general that opposed FFRF’s ongoing litigation to ensure the separation of state and church. Previous Attorney General Bill Schuette had filed briefs in opposition of FFRF. Nessel has honorably decided that, under her leadership, the state will no longer waste legal resources on these cases.

The three cases are: Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Lehigh, Gaylor v. Mnuchin, and Barker v. Conroy.

“I will not use this office to undermine some of the most important values in our state, including those involving reproductive rights and the separation of church and state,” Nessel said in a statement announcing the state’s withdrawal.

FFRF applauds Nessel on her decision.

“The new AG has demonstrated commendable leadership by choosing to honor the values of Michigan citizens over religious interest groups,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We hope this serves as an example to other attorneys general that their positions are better served upholding the law than weaponizing religious liberty to target vulnerable groups.”

FFRF couldn’t have said it better

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a New York Times op-ed Feb.7:

Mr. Trump and the Religious Right are spreading falsehoods about New York’s law to inflame their base. Activists on the far right continue to mislead with the ridiculous claim that the act will allow abortions up to a minute before birth.

. . . The 73 percent of New Yorkers who support Roe includes 59 percent of Catholics. While governments may very well enact laws that are consistent with religious teaching, governments do not pass laws to be consistent with what any particular religion dictates.

I was educated in religious schools, and I am a former altar boy. My Roman Catholic values are my personal values. The decisions I choose to make in my life, or in counseling my daughters, are based on my personal moral and religious beliefs.

Thanks to the nation’s founders, no elected official is empowered to make personal religious beliefs the law of the land. My oath of office is to the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of New York — not to the Catholic Church. My religion cannot demand favoritism as I execute my public duties. 

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo