South Dakota law exclusionary

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is damning an exclusionary new South Dakota law that mandates displaying an “In God We Trust” logo in all public schools.

“A new state law that took effect this month requires all public schools in the state’s 149 districts to paint, stencil or otherwise prominently display the national motto,” the Associated Press reports. “The South Dakota lawmakers who proposed the law said the requirement was meant to inspire patriotism in the state’s public schools.”

The law — insultingly confusing patriotism with piety — is part of the nationwide legislative push by Project Blitz, which is a stealth campaign to inject religious bills into state legislatures across the country. The campaign, FFRF avers, is an unvarnished attack on American secularism and civil liberties, imposing the theocratic vision of a powerful few on “We the People.”

These laws are about advancing the lie that the United States was “founded on God” or Christianity, thus dismantling the wall between religion and government. The motto “In God We Trust” is inaccurate, exclusionary, and aimed at brainwashing American schoolchildren into believing that our nation is a theocracy, FFRF asserts.

FFRF fought the law.

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., which has legally challenged the motto’s inclusion on U.S. currency, alerted its South Dakota members to

There goes the neighborhood.

their legislators to express opposition to the law,” AP reports.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor told AP: “Our position is that it’s a terrible violation of freedom of conscience to inflict a godly message on a captive audience of schoolchildren.”

“In God We Trust” was belatedly adopted as a motto when President Eisenhower signed legislation at the behest of the Knights of Columbus and other religious entities, which undertook a national lobbying campaign during the height of 1950s zealotry.

The original inclusionary U.S. motto, chosen by a distinguished committee of Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, is the Latin E Pluribus Unum (From Many, [Come] One).

As FFRF principal founder Anne Gaylor always pointed out, the religious motto isn’t even correct: “To be accurate it would have to read ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly?”

Anne Gaylor’s remark is more apt now than ever. The nonreligious segment of the U.S. population is currently the largest “denomination,” surpassing Roman Catholics at almost 24 percent of the populace. One-third of Millennials are “Nones,” and one-fifth of Gen Z explicitly identifies as atheist or agnostic.

A large portion of the schoolchildren in South Dakota belong to Gen Z — and with the required display of an explicitly religious motto, religion is being imposed on the freethinkers among them.

FFRF, others seek to dissolve State Dept. commission

A new State Department body should be disbanded, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and close to 200 other organizations urged in a letter. Hundreds of former officials, academics and activists have also signed on to the July letter originating with Human Rights First.

FFRF and all these groups and individuals are calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to dissolve the recently announced Commission on Unalienable Rights.

“We object to the commission’s stated purpose, which we find harmful to the global effort to protect the rights of all people and a waste of resources; the commission’s makeup, which lacks ideological diversity and appears to reflect a clear interest in limiting human rights, including the rights of women and LGBTQI individuals; and the process by which the commission came into being and is being administered, which has sidelined human rights experts in the State Department’s own Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,” the letter states. “We urge you to immediately disband this body.”

The commission’s shortcomings start with its title, the letter points out.

“We view with great misgiving a body established by the U.S. government aimed expressly at circumscribing rights through an artificial sorting of those that are ‘unalienable’ and those to be now deemed ‘ad hoc,’” says the letter. “These terms simply have no place in human rights discourse. It is a fundamental tenet of human rights that all rights are universal and equal.”

And the composition of the entity does little to inspire confidence.

“The commission clearly fails to achieve the legal requirement that a federal advisory committee ‘be fairly balanced in its membership in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed,’” asserts the letter. “The commission’s chair and members are overwhelmingly clergy or scholars known for extreme positions opposing LGBTQ and reproductive rights, and some have taken public stances in support of indefensible human rights violations.”

FFRF and the other groups strongly advise that “taxpayer resources should simply not be wasted on this commission,” since “its findings will have no weight or ability to redefine human rights.”

The joint letter, released July 23, has received coverage in major media outlets.

FFRF has been ahead of the curve when it comes to the “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” getting wind of it in June and immediately asking for records on the body, which FFRF awaits. FFRF has been concerned from the outset that the group will redefine human rights through the Christian nationalism that the secretary of state promotes.

“The distinctive mark of Western civilization is the belief in the inherent worth of human beings, with the attendant respect for God-authored rights and liberties,” Pompeo said in May. This conflation of “God-given rights” and “human rights” seems to be a hallmark of the commission.

In a speech to a Wichita congregation in 2015, Pompeo, the then-Kansas congressman, shared his worldview: “To worship our Lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty.”

He also exposed his Christian fundamentalism in stating, “America had worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.” Pompeo concluded by describing politics as “a never-ending struggle . . . until the rapture.”

FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel has explained, “This language is worrisome. The Founders, Thomas Jefferson in particular, focused on human rights, not Pompeo’s ‘God-given rights.’”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is more than happy to join in the call for the Commission on Unalienable Rights to be shut down.

Mike Pompeo

Appeals court: County seal ruled constitutional

Reverses FFRF victory in district court from 2017 in Pennsylvania

Lehigh County seal

An appellate court on Aug. 8 disappointingly invoked a misguided U.S. Supreme Court decision to declare constitutional a cross-bearing Pennsylvania county seal.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and four individual plaintiffs won resoundingly in district court in 2017 when a judge found unconstitutional the Lehigh County seal that features a prominent cross. “The undisputed facts demonstrate that the county’s original purpose for including a cross on the seal is not secular,” Judge Edward G. Smith had ruled in 2017.

But the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia unfortunately relied on the Supreme Court’s recent Bladensburg cross decision to rule the clearly Christian seal acceptable.

The opinion, written by Judge Thomas Hardiman, who was rumored to be on President Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court, says that the 3rd Circuit was bound to uphold the seal and cross because of the Bladensburg precedent. Hardiman holds that, after Bladensburg, “longstanding symbols benefit from ‘a strong presumption of constitutionality,’” by which he means, “longstanding religious symbols.” The seal dates back to 1944.

The alarming nature of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bladensburg judgment can be seen in this opinion. Instead of protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority, Hardiman rules that the majority can trample the First Amendment in the name of its religion, concluding that the seal “has become part of the community.”

FFRF’s appellate brief, filed in April of last year, highlighted the bedrock constitutional principles that the Christian seal violates as the symbol of Lehigh County government.

The federal lawsuit was filed in August 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Co-plaintiffs with FFRF are four of its local members who’ve objected to encountering the religious symbol on county property.

The seal is on documents, many official county forms and reports, the county’s website, in a display in the Board of Commissioners meeting room and even on flags displayed prominently at the entrance of county buildings and the airport.

The board adopted the imagery that appears on the seal in 1944. (Allentown, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania, is located in Lehigh County, with a population of about 350,000.)

After FFRF complained, creating a minor firestorm, the Board of Commissioners sent a reply that proved the state/church watchdog’s point: “The cross, one of more than a dozen elements, was included to honor the original settlers of Lehigh County, who were Christian.”

That’s why it’s incongruous that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found the Lehigh County seal acceptable.

“The appeals court decision validates a Lehigh County seal that sends a wrong, exclusionary message,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The county should be welcoming of all residents regardless of religion — and it’s appalling that the court didn’t prod county officials to move in that direction.”

The litigation is being handled by Marcus B. Schneider of Pittsburgh, with assistance from FFRF Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Elizabeth Cavell.

Elliott asserts that the appellate decision will damage the secular principles of the Constitution.

“This decision runs counter to decades of court decisions recognizing that the First Amendment prohibits governments from affiliating themselves with a religion,” says Elliott.

Secular invocation: Lindsey Bridges

Lindsey Bridges

Seminole County (Fla.) Commission

Jan. 8, 2019

Madame chair, commissioners, staff, citizens, and guests, let me thank you for including me in today’s proceedings.

The word “invocation” originates from the Latin invocare, meaning “to call upon” — an infinitive which generates a question. “To whom or to what do we call upon?”

Historically, and even today, we generally seek wisdom and guidance from god or muse, but today, at the helm of this new year, I invite you to call upon one another.

Let us invoke our fellow Homo sapiens, who have learned that working together as a whole enhances and benefits the individual immensely. What we lack or strive for in ourselves, let us offer and find in others who share our passion for service.

In the words of the poet John Donne, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

As a lifelong resident of Seminole County, a former volunteer at the Winter Springs Police Department and a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community, I champion this notion.

As one of our constitutional framers, Thomas Paine said, “Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well to possess.”

So, let us fulfill this duty, this obligation to represent and manifest the will of the governed; our fellow citizens.

Let our shared experience color us and others’ unique experimentation enlighten us all. Let us pursue truth and toil, each day, for a better way to serve our peers, by extension, ourselves, and to foster maximal well-being for all.

Again, the words of Thomas Paine: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

You have our sincere gratitude for setting the example of service we should all follow.

FFRF Member Lindsey Bridges, 21, is a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community, FFRF chapter, and a student at the University of Central Florida, studying biology and mathematics. “I’m passionate about the separation of church and state, religious liberty and equality for all.”

See FFRF’s Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest rules on page 12.

Lindsey Bridges

Secular invocation: Karen Avizur

Karen Avizur

Tavares (Fla.)  City Hall

March 20, 2019

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address Tavares in this invocation, speaking not just as an atheist but as a resident of Mount Dora, to bring us together for this meeting.

I’ve lived here less than a year, and have already made many friends among my neighbors and others in my community. We’re all appreciative to those officials who come together to better our society, who struggle with the laws, both moral and ethical. Who come to City Hall as representatives, and as citizens themselves, to do the best they can to encourage and preserve justice, equality, and the well-being of every person in our vastly diverse society.

I’d like to recite a quote from Carl Sagan, one I’m particularly fond of, when he speaks of the photo Voyager 1 took of Earth, the “Pale Blue Dot.”

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

I’m immensely grateful to those who work for our city and those who live in and support it, and hope that today’s meeting, and all that come after, continue to unite us as one community.

Karen Avizur is a video editor living in Mount Dora, Fla., with her two dogs. In her free time, she likes to read sci-fi and write fantasy novels.

Join other nontheists for 2019 Secular Lobby Day

Make your voice heard in Washington, D.C., by joining the Secular Coalition for America at its Secular Lobby Day Sept. 26-27.

SCA, of which FFRF is a member organization, will begin its gathering on Thursday, Sept. 26, with an evening reception on Capitol Hill with members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus and other lawmakers and staff.

The next day will be spent on Capitol Hill with speakers, training and visits to congressional offices. Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne, Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel and Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann will be representing FFRF during the weekend.

You will learn how to effectively lobby your representatives, shape public policy to help make a real impact, meet with lawmakers and their staffs and network with like-minded secular leaders and advocates.

On Thursday, Sept. 26, from 7-9 p.m., you can attend an exclusive reception on Capitol Hill. While there, you will have the chance to mingle with your fellow citizen advocates as SCA honors the members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, Hill staffers, and activists who have advocated on behalf of secular Americans.

Then, on Friday, Sept. 27, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., you can join nontheists from across the country as they lobby members of Congress and their staff, in person, about issues impacting the separation of church and state. You will be trained on how best to present SCA’s issues by lobbyists from SCA and our member organizations, and then team up with fellow attendees from your state or region for congressional meetings.

Tickets are needed for the reception an

Lobby Day

d breakfast and space is limited. Go to lobbyday.us for more information or to register.

FFRF welcomes 17 new Lifers

FFRF thanks and welcomes our 17 new Lifetime Members and two Immortals. The new $1,000 Lifetime Members are David Balint, Mary Balint, Carla Brady, William Burkhardt, Jimmy Dunne, Rebecca Greben, Laurel Huber, Walter C. Kennedy, Gordon L. Kramer, Barbara Lund, Jake Mahoney, N. Raymond Pearson, Linda Skory, William R. Slye, Jamie Smith, Matt Smith and Kathleen Steel.

States represented are California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

Our new Immortals are Al Lunemann and Glenn E. McMunn. The Immortals category is a donation designation for those generous members who have contacted FFRF to report they have made provisions for FFRF in their estate planning.

In memoriam: Roger Chapman lived life on his own terms

Longtime FFRF Member Roger P. Chapman, 78, died July 5 in Fitchburg, Wis. He had been a member since 1979!

Roger was born in Eau Claire, Wis., on June 25, 1941, to Jean and Margaret (Sweeney) Chapman. He graduated from Evansville (Wis.) High School in 1959 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1964. Roger thought public schools were excellent and opposed public money going to religious or other private schools.

Roger worked at Evansville’s Rex Theater, where he eventually became a projectionist. That led to jobs as a projectionist while he was an undergrad in college and a computer systems analyst in grad school.

When the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) became law in 1971, Roger designed and became a project leader of Wisconsin’s OSHA system.

Based on his experience, Roger thought a broad liberal arts education, rather than one focused on computer science, was best for a computer systems designer.

After Roger was disabled by an accident, Dr. George Szasz gave him good advice regarding rehabilitation and living a full and active life. Roger followed this advice unrelentingly.

Roger spent six years in the Army Reserves, and became a political activist in his later years. He was a member of the Democratic and Socialist parties and several public interest organizations. In 2003, he was honored as an extraordinary activist by the Coalition for Wisconsin Health.

Longtime friend Ingrid Andersson wrote this about Roger for Freethought Today:

“Roger was a family friend. We met at an FFRF function in the late 1980s. Roger grew up Catholic, but by the time I met him in the late 1980s, he was passionately opposed to religion and never tired of revealing holes of logic and mercy within it, especially Catholicism.

“Roger was also passionate about working toward an American single-payer health care system, and as an activist nurse and midwife, I shared those political local initiatives with him. Roger was a deeply compassionate individual who always got to the heart of the matter and rarely small-talked.

“Many people who knew Roger did not realize how much he loved folk dancing and singing. Though he could not dance — being confined to a wheelchair since a motorcycle crash as a young man — he possessed intelligent, dancing eyes, and was a member of a secular monthly singing group. Many of us in Madison loved Roger for his truth-seeking qualities and passions, and we will miss him.”

Roger with Ingrid Andersson and her brother Karl Johnson in the early 1990s.
Roger and Ingrid Andersson at an FFRF convention.
Roger Chapman

In memoriam: Active secularist Mike Steiner dies

FFRF Life Member Mike Steiner died in late June in Phoenix.

He was a constant presence in the Arizona secular community, serving on the boards of Secular AZ, FFRF – Valley of the Sun Chapter, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State – Greater Phoenix Chapter. He was also an active membe

Mike Steiner

r/volunteer in the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix.

Secular AZ posted this about Steiner: “Mike was deeply committed to separation of church and state and worked tirelessly to make the world a better place. He was always willing to help by sharing his knowledge, ideas and time. We all knew that we could count on Mike to be there when we needed something done . . . and especially when we needed it done right. His attention to detail was legendary! Most of all, we will miss Mike’s smile and quirky sense of humor. As one of our board members said, Mike was so often the spark that lit a smile.”

In memoriam: Art collector James Smith Rudolph dies

James Smith Rudolph, 92, died in Sarasota, Fla., on April 15.

He was born June 9, 1926, to Samuel and Elizabeth Smith Rudolph. He enlisted in the Navy at age 17 and also attended Dartmouth.

Jim spent seven years in Paris, where he learned about literature, art and music. He once said that he wouldn’t have traded them for any seven years of anyone else’s life.

Jim is survived by his wife of 47 years, Adrienne. Together, they created Centicore Arts International in Ann Arbor, Mich., and traveled the world. Jim collected Renaissance musical instruments, 18th century French furniture, contemporary art, vintage wines, kitchen gadgets, and more.

James Rudolph