The U.S. Supreme Court on May 28 upheld a religiously motivated law signed by former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains following abortion. In the same decision, the Supreme Court notably evaded ruling on another strict component of the same law that banned abortions sought on the basis of the sex, race or abnormality of the fetus.
FFRF condemns these orchestrated attacks on safe and legal abortion. These restrictions, like the numerous other anti-choice laws that have arisen in states across the country (see pages 6-7), are intended to impose unnecessary hurdles, both on patients and the doctors who provide abortion. The Supreme Court decision is part of a campaign to chip away at legal protection of abortion access until the procedure is effectively outlawed.
The unsigned decision indicating the court’s decision not to review the state ban on sex- and disability-selective abortion cases “expresses no view on the merits” of the issue. The decision
noted that the court would wait until further appellate courts rule on similar laws before considering whether to hear a case. In the meantime, the decision by the appeals court invalidating the selective abortion ban stands.
Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have denied review of both issues in the case.
Meanwhile, in Missouri, the state is refusing to renew the license of its last remaining clinic to provide abortion services. Missouri is now the first state without an abortion clinic since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
One in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime and more than 70 percent of women oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The out-of-touch legislative opposition to abortion access is peddled by the Religious Right. Outlawing and restricting abortion access doesn’t decrease the number of abortions, it decreases the number of safe abortions. Americans should not stand by as women’s health is compromised in the name of a god who has no place in our secular laws and institutions.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and a co-plaintiff refiled a case on May 29 against a Texas justice of the peace who regularly foists prayer upon his courtroom attendees.
Last September, a federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit by FFRF and three local plaintiffs filed in March 2017 challenging Montgomery County Judge Wayne Mack’s religious rituals at the beginning of court sessions. U.S. District Court Judge Ewing Werlein Jr., for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, dismissed the case because FFRF had namedas the main defendant Montgomery County, which claimed it had no control over Mack’s courtroom practices. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning FFRF was free to refile the case with new defendants.
With the support of compelling evidence, FFRF is doing that.
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 instituting religious values within the office. Now, as a judge, he has made the unprecedented decision to solicit chaplains to open each of his court sessions with prayer, a practice not replicated by any other court in the country.
Shortly after assuming his post on May 1, 2014, Mack instituted a Justice Court Chaplaincy Program that would eventually serve as the primary source of the chaplains who deliver courtroom prayers. In the beginning, Mack made clear that only Christian chaplains need apply. Mack’s original chaplain training manual described the program as a “ministry” and included an image of a badge, issued by Mack to each chaplain who completed a training session, that featured a large Christian cross in the middle. Chaplains would wear these badges while delivering prayers in Mack’s court. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the chaplains in the program, and the prayers they deliver, have reflected Mack’s personal religious beliefs.
By spring 2015, after receiving scrutiny from FFRF and a formal complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Mack began revising
his courtroom-prayer practice. Now, after attorneys have indicated their presence in the courtroom and after the docket has been called, but before Mack has entered, the bailiff or court clerk gives a brief introductory statement describing the prayer practice. That announcement is supposed to include a statement that those opposed to prayer may leave the courtroom without affecting the outcome of their cases, although this has been inconsistently incorporated. Mack enters the courtroom, and after his introduction, the chaplain leads a prayer. The doors are magnetically locked. To exit, a person must push a button and re-entry can only be granted by someone already inside.
FFRF co-plaintiff John Roe has been present in Mack’s courtroom on many occasions in recent years, and, on each of these occasions, he was exposed to a courtroom prayer led by a Christian chaplain. In mid-June 2017, prior to the start of court, Roe was in the courthouse but not yet in the courtroom. The clerk of court entered the room and instructed Roe and the litigant that they “need[ed]” to enter the courtroom to participate in the prayer. This wasn’t framed as a request, but as a demand. Roe complied because he believes that publicly registering his objection to the courtroom-prayer practice would jeopardize his client and case.
Roe said he regularly declines business in order to avoid appearing in Mack’s courtroom. On some matters, Roe elects to bring claims in the district court instead of Mack’s court, despite the higher filing fees, higher service fees and the generally slower docket. These decisions are not choices that any attorney or private litigant should have to make.
Mack’s courtroom prayer practice places the state’s imprimatur on religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, in violation of the Establishment Clause, FFRF contends. Due to his power as a justice of the peace, Mack has coerced Roe and others to participate in his religious practice. FFRF desires a judgment declaring that Mack’s courtroom prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause and a judgment awarding plaintiffs their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
FFRF and Roe are being represented by FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover, with FFRF Associate Counsel Elizabeth Cavell and Attorney Ayesha Khan of Washington, D.C., serving as co-counsel.
Mark Dann has joined FFRF’s staff as its first full-time director of governmental affairs.
The hiring of Dann will raise the national profile of FFRF in Washington, D.C., where he will be based. Dann will shape FFRF’s government relations policy to uphold the separation of church and state and the rights of nontheistic Americans.
Dann previously worked as the director of governmental affairs for the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) and he will continue to support SCA’s work. (FFRF is a member organization of SCA.) He has also served as the federal affairs director at Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life advocacy group, and as a democracy development consultant with the National Democratic Institute in Moldova and Iraq.
The secular movement continues to increase its prominence on Capitol Hill. Ten years ago, the secular movement had only one lobbyist dedicated to making its voice heard in Washington. Today, there are also governmental affairs representatives from SCA, the American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry and American Atheists.
“Public officials, politicians and candidates have failed to catch up with the changing demographics of the United States, where the ‘Nones’ (nonreligious), at almost 24 percent, are the fastest-growing segment, outnumbering Roman Catholics,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We believe it is vital for our voice to be heard in order for reason and our secular Constitution to prevail in social policy and in our laws.”
Established nationally in 1978, FFRF has a legal department that ends over 300 state/church entanglements a year, and conducts over a dozen ongoing lawsuits.
The Secular Coalition for America is the nation’s premier advocacy organization representing atheists, humanists, agnostics, and other nontheists. Located in Washington, D.C., the SCA lobbies the U.S. Congress, White House, and federal agencies on issues of concern to our constituency.
The SCA coordinates activities with and provides resources to local secular communities across the country. Its mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.
FFRF is saddened to report the death of attorney and longtime FFRF Member Robert Reitano “Bob” Tiernan, 85, on April 25 in Paducah, Ky.
He was born on Nov. 1, 1933, in Norwood, N.Y. to Albert and Grace Reitano Tiernan. He graduated from Black River High School in New York, LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and Boston College School of Law. The day after he graduated from law school, he was drafted into the Army and served two years at Fort Dix, N.J. Shortly after being discharged from the Army, he went to work as an advance man on John F. Kennedy’s campaign. He then spent 20 years practicing law at the firm of Keller & Heckman in Washington, D.C., and later specialized in constitutional law in Denver. His life was rocked by the death of his younger son, Timmy, in 1983, in an automobile accident. Following Timmy’s death, he spent three years successfully promoting the mandatory installation of airbags in all cars.
Bob was past president of the Denver chapter of FFRF and was FFRF’s Freethinker of the Year in 2001. He fought several important legal challenges for FFRF. He was able to end a 53-year violation involving a major taxpayer subsidy of an annual Easter service in the Denver area and also defended pro bono a freethinker accused of “blasphemy” for removing a religious cross illegally placed in a public right-of-way.
“When people question my dedication to the principle of church-state separation, I tell them it must have been the most important liberty in the minds of the Founding Fathers because they chose to lead off the very First Amendment with the Establishment Clause,” Bob said in his award acceptance speech at FFRF’s 2001 convention. “It’s a shame that the judicial system, and especially the current U.S. Supreme Court, has tinkered so much with these words because the admonition is simple — there shall be no establishment of religion. The idea of ‘accommodating’ religion, which is the current rage with the judiciary, absolutely contradicts this clear and simple language and demeans our Constitution.”
Following Bob’s death, Bob’s daughter Amy Tiernan Ulness wrote “Random Thoughts About My Dad.”
“The first 20 years of his legal career were as a partner at the Washington, D.C., firm of Keller & Heckman,” she writes. “His final years were spent arguing separation of church and state cases for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Cases he worked on challenged the placement of religious monuments on public grounds, ‘In God we Trust’ on money, and religious roadside memorials on public highways. FFRF named him 2001 Freethinker of the Year, which I thought was ironic considering how opinionated he was.”
She continued: “A few years ago, my brother Robert and I visited and he was delighted. Dad was weak and frail, barely ate, and mostly slept. His last words and thoughts were of how he wished he had done more with us kids. Wished he had read more to me. Had come to my softball games. Had helped me with my homework. Had been a better and more encouraging father. Nothing to do with his time spent with JFK, or arguing important cases, or the material stuff he’d had. His thoughts and regrets were about family and loved ones. During that week, he taught me that jobs, money, houses, material stuff and fluff comes and goes, but the people of your heart are what matter in the end. They should matter more before the end.”
Bob is survived by his life partner Julie Wells; his daughter Amy and her two children; his son Robert R. Tiernan Jr.; his brother and sister-in-law Kenneth and Margaret Tiernan.
Longtime FFRF Member Betty Jo Brogaard died on April 14 at age 82.
She was born March 9, 1937, in Memphis, Tenn. In an FFRF “Meet a Member” profile in 2010, she wrote: “Yes, I knew Elvis before he was The King. He was two years older, and we went to different public schools. The extent of our limited contact was at football games, where we would say ‘Hi Betty’ and ‘Hi Elvis.’ (I was very shy.)”
Betty had been a member of FFRF since 2000 and left a very generous bequest to FFRF.
“We’re very sad about losing Betty, and so grateful that she prized FFRF to the extent of leaving this significant bequest for our work,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
She was married to her husband Fred for 43 years until he died of a rare stomach cancer in 2008.
Betty earned a B.A. from Ambassador College in Pasadena, Calif., majoring in theology and communications. “I took creative writing classes in the Seattle area after Fred and I forsook the Worldwide Church of God cult in the 1970s,” she wrote.
She retired at age 70 after 52 years of nearly continuous office work. She became a freelance author, with two published books: Dare to Think for Yourself: A Journey From Faith to Reason and The Homemade Atheist: A former Evangelical Woman’s Freethought Journey to Happiness. “Before opening my eyes to the ‘light’ of unbelief, I wrote Christian magazine articles,” Betty wrote in 2010. “I’m amazed that I could have believed (or tried very hard to believe) the things I penned.”
She said it took her a while to finally come to terms with her atheism.
“I sporadically and quietly struggled against my growing nonbelief out of fear that my marriage would fall apart and all my family and friends would forsake me. But publicly, I’ve been avidly ‘out of the closet’ since the mid-’90s.”
But it was a great decision to be free from the mental constraints of religion, she wrote.
“I have contentment and a large measure of happiness that I didn’t have as a believer because I strove so hard and failed to be ‘perfect,’ as the bible dictates. I now have the freedom to think for myself and apply or acknowledge what I learn or question without fearing the many things I don’t understand. I have learned that I can even change my mind without guilt or shame as I study, listen to others and re-evaluate my position.”
Janet Jeppson Asimov, author, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and widow of Isaac Asimov, died on Feb. 25.
She was 92. She was born Aug. 6, 1926. She earned a B.A. degree from Stanford University, an M.D. degree from New York University Medical School, completing a residency in psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital.
In 1960, she graduated from the William Alanson White Institute of Psychoanalysis, where she continued to work until 1986. After her marriage to Isaac Asimov on Nov. 30, 1973, she continued to practice psychiatry and psychoanalysis under the name Janet O. Jeppson, and she published medical papers under that name. She was also the former director of training at the William Alanson White Institute and a former science columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
According to the Encyclopedia for Science Fiction, most of her science fiction was for children. Her books include The Second Experiment, The Last Immortal,Mind Transfer and Murder at the Galactic Writers’ Society.
With her husband, she wrote the Norby Chronicles series, tales for young readers starring a robot. She also edited a selection of his letters called It’s Been a Good Life: Isaac Asimov.
“I met with Janet and photographed her for my book A Better Life, and she is the first person featured in the project to die,” writes author Chris Johnson. “She was rather shy, and a very private person, but was also kind and generous. She gave me a copy of her late husband’s book Nine Tomorrows as a gift since she mentioned it was a favorite of hers, and one that she said didn’t get as much attention as some of his other, more well-known works. She wrote to me that, ‘Human life, like the universe itself, has a beginning, a middle, and an end — much as a good story does.’”
FFRF welcomes and thanks our 22 new Lifetime Members and two new Immortals.
The new $1,000 Lifetime Members are Jody Beighley, Rita E. Bell, Kate Carmichael, Brian Enright, Richard M. Fowler, Peter Frey, Conrad Gleich, Robert Grabeck, Betty Kelly, Jon Klages, Karl Kramer, Matt LaPlante, Bob Mendenhall, Lanny Peissig, Sharon Peissig, Mike Powers (a gift from Stephen Van Eck), Richard J. Pratt, Bryan H. Richardson, Marti Tarnowski, Mark Voorhees, Tracy Witmer and Thomas Zibinski.
States represented are Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
Our two new Immortals are Lee Salisbury and Carll Peterson. 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.
Education: Master’s degree in psychology from Indiana University.
Occupation: I was a gift shop owner until my daughter started kindergarten. I was a primary school teacher until I completed the work required for my master’s degree in school psychology. I then worked as a school psychologist until retiring at 65.
In 1981, there was a personnel strike that closed the schools, and I found myself with little to do after reporting to work. But I had earlier attended a workshop for administrative staff on personal computers, and began hanging out in the department that housed various desktops. So, I learned how to use them.
I was really exasperated at the amount of time required to analyze data from the various tasks and tests I administered to the children. There was plenty of credible research, but none of it organized in any useful way. So that’s what I did with that gifted time — learned how to write computer programs. I bought an Apple II computer, and eventually sent letters to thousands of other school psychologists, and sold a two-disk program to other child psychologists across the country, on useful approaches and recommendations for the teachers.
Person in history I admire and why: I admire Franklin Delano Roosevelt immensely. He struggled to overcome terrible physical handicaps, then dared to challenge the social beliefs of his caste to address the ills of the country with imaginative approaches never before dreamed of.
These are a few of my favorite things: Live music, bridge with friends, reading.
My doubts about religion started: I’m not sure. My mother, though she had never previously attended church, began to do so many years later when she moved next door to my sister, whose brother-in-law was a priest. My dad was an atheist, and I was a “daddy’s girl.” When I was about 11, my mother sent me to catechism classes and had me take a first communion. Unlike my siblings, I was rebellious, and my mother often sent me off to confession with instructions to tell the priest about all the times I sassed her. Unfortunately for her, I didn’t feel like a sinner. Maybe that was the beginning of my atheism. I’m not sure when I stopped believing in a God, and I’m not at all sure that I ever had a strong belief in the first place. My sibs, who each spent at least one year in Catholic schools, are all quite religious, and try to not be too aware of my atheism. Surprisingly, some of my nieces and nephews are atheists, which really gives me a nice warm fuzzy feeling, though I have played no part in their nonbelief.