HUD enabling religious bigotry, FFRF contends

Benson cartoon

A proposed Housing and Urban Development rule is blatantly pandering to religious prejudice, FFRF asserts in a recent public comment.

The HUD regulation would allow shelters to “establish a policy that places and accommodates individuals on the basis of their biological sex, without regard to their gender identity,” permitting explicit discrimination against transgender individuals, FFRF contends.

“The rule does nothing other than rubber-stamp religious bigotry and jeopardize the health and well-being of transgender homeless Americans — people who already face discrimination on multiple fronts and desperately need government support,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to HUD Secretary Ben Carson on behalf of FFRF’s 32,000-member association. “This rule disgracefully places the weight of the government in support of oppressors rather than the oppressed, allowing shelters receiving federal funds to turn away an individual simply because they are transgender, or because a shelter worker thinks they might be transgender based on their appearance.”

Religion plays a major part in anti-transgender discrimination, as it does in many such historical patterns, FFRF underscores. Indeed, the voices openly calling for the right to discriminate against transgender individuals almost invariably cite “religious freedom” as a justification. Catering to these bigoted demands not only endorses such discrimination, but also endorses a particularly vile religious belief in violation of our entirely secular Constitution’s requirement that religion and government remain separate.

There’s another glaring problem with this rule, FFRF points out: Who determines an individual’s biological sex for the purpose of this rule, and how do they do so? This would require shelters to theoretically engage in the invasive and often complicated task of determining an individual’s biological sex — and then appropriately reconciling when the indicators do not all match. Because this is impossible, not to mention unethical, shelters would be left with a “know it when I see it” standard of discrimination that is wholly unacceptable.

It becomes even more unacceptable because transgender people are at greater risk of homelessness, FFRF emphasizes. One in five transgender persons in the United States has experienced homelessness at some point in their lives due to societal bias, ignorance, family rejection, discrimination and violence. This cruel HUD rule would only further compound such bigotry.

And allowing a government-funded shelter to exclude gender identity from its sex discrimination policy seemingly conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision, Bostock v. Clayton County. That opinion holds that the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. If a private workplace cannot discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, clearly a federally funded shelter may not do so. A federal court just last week enjoined a Department of Health and Human Services effort to remove transgender protection from its anti-discrimination rules. This proposed rule seeks to do the same and must be rescinded.

“HUD’s true purpose in floating this bigoted proposal is to allow government-supported religious shelters to deny services to those in need based on sex and gender,” adds Gaylor. “That’s heartless and that’s shameful.”

‘Freethought Matters’ is back on the air!

The pandemic is not stopping the Freedom From Religion Foundation from producing a lively fall season of its TV show, “Freethought Matters,” which resumed in 12 cities on Sept. 6. The season’s first show, with the distinguished journalist and pundit Eleanor Clift, is available to view via YouTube.

Tune in to find out what it was like for Eleanor Clift to fight for a word on “The McLaughlin Group,” on which she was a well-known panelist. Clift discusses her own “Cinderella story” as a professional writer (coming from an era when women journalists started as secretaries), then becoming Newsweek’s White House correspondent. The show focuses on Clift’s book, Founding Sisters and the 19th Amendment, recounting the exciting and controversial history of the suffrage movement, in honor of the recent centennial of the anniversary of the adoption of that amendment.

Clift has appeared as herself in several movies, including “Dave,” “Independence Day, “Murder at 1600,” and the CBS show “Murphy Brown.” She has previously spoken at two FFRF conventions. Her late husband, Tom Brazaitis, also a well-known journalist, was an atheist and enthusiastic member of FFRF.

Upcoming guests and topics include the imperiled Constitution with Supreme Court expert Linda Greenhouse, who covered the court for 30 years for the New York Times, and the rise of Christian Nationalism, with Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, authors of Taking America Back for God. The second episode of the season featured professor Khyati Y. Joshi talking about her new book, White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America.

Freethought Matters has also interviewed the distinguished D.C. delegate Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus; and will interview singer John Davidson, a ’60s and ’70s pop star, movie and TV actor who is a nonbeliever.

For a change of pace, upcoming musical guests will include the talented and nonbelieving jazz couple: pianist Addison Frei and vocalist Tahira Clayton.

Irreverent troubadour/songwriter Roy Zimmerman and freethinking songwriter and singer Shelly Segal will also be interviewed.

“Freethought Matters” airs in:

• Chicago, WPWR-CW (Ch. 50), Sundays at 9 a.m.

• Denver, KWGN-CW (Ch. 2), Sundays at 7 a.m.

• Houston, KUBE-IND (Ch. 57), Sundays at 9 a.m.

• Los Angeles, KCOP-MY (Ch. 13), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.

• Madison, Wis., WISC-TV (Ch. 3), Sundays at 11 p.m.

• Minneapolis, KSTC-IND (Ch. 45), Sundays at 9:30 a.m.

• New York City, WPIX-IND (Ch. 11), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.

• Phoenix, KASW-CW (Ch. 61, or 6 or 1006 for HD), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.

• Portland, Ore., KRCW-CW (Ch. 32), Sundays at 9 a.m. Comcast channel 703 for High Def, or Channel 3.

• Sacramento, KQCA-MY (Ch. 58), Sundays at 8:30 a.m.

• Seattle, KONG-IND (Ch. 16 or Ch. 106 on Comcast). Sundays at 8 a.m.

• Washington, D.C., WDCW-CW (Ch. 50), Sundays at 8 a.m.

“You can turn on the TV and be preached at 24/7, especially on Sunday mornings. We want to provide sympathetic programming for the ‘unmassed masses,’ and offer an alternative, so that religious programming does not win by default,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president and co-host. The intent is to introduce communities to leading freethought or secular authors, thinkers and activists in a nonthreatening and positive way, adds FFRF co-president and co-host Dan Barker.

Please tune in to “Freethought Matters” . . . because freethought matters.

P.S. Please tune in or record according to the times given above regardless of what is listed in your TV guide (it may be listed simply as “paid programming” or even be misidentified). To set up an automatic weekly recording, try taping manually by time or channel. And spread the word to freethinking friends, family or colleagues about a TV show, finally, that is dedicated to providing programming for freethinkers!

Eleanor Clift

Looking to donate to FFRF? Here’s how!

There are many ways you can donate to FFRF, including directly through our website (ffrf.org/donate).

Ways to give include the Combined Federal Campaign for federal employees, matching gifts, AmazonSmile, estate planning, stock transfer and IRA charitable rollover gifts, which apply to seniors 70½ or older.

Combined Federal Campaign

If you are a federal employee, you may make donations to FFRF through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) until January 2021. Details can be found at opm.gov/combined-federal-campaign. If you wish to help FFRF through this campaign, the CFC code to designate your contribution is 32519.

It is recommended that all CFC donors check the box to include their name and mailing address (in addition to your e-mail) with the donation. Donors will receive an acknowledgment from FFRF when we receive pledge notification (throughout the year).

FFRF has been a CFC charity since 2007. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. appears in the listing of “National/International Independent Organizations” which is published in each local campaign charity list.

Matching grants

Matching grant donations have become a significant boost to FFRF in recent years. Many companies offer to match (fully or a percentage) their employees’ donations to charitable organizations. These matches multiply the impact of the initial donation to further the goals of the Foundation. Membership dues and donations are tax-deductible contributions and may be submitted to matching gift programs upon organization approval.

FFRF receives Charity Navigator’s highest four-star rating. Donations to FFRF are deductible for income-tax purposes.

IRA charitable rollover

If you are age 70 1/2 or older, you may now donate up to $100,000 to FFRF as a qualifying 501(c)(3) charitable organization directly from your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The distribution will not be treated as taxable income, provided the distribution is made directly.

To qualify, contributions must come from a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, and they must be made directly to FFRF. Additionally, the donor may not receive goods or services in exchange for the donation, and they must retain a receipt from each charity to which a donation is made.

Because it is available to taxpayers whether or not they itemize their tax returns, the rollover helps older Americans, who are more likely not to file itemized returns.

FFRF will send a “non-tax” letter receipt that documents your lovely charitable rollover gift!

Stock

If you are interested in donating stock to FFRF, please email Director of Operations Lisa Strand ([email protected]) or FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor ([email protected]) or FFRF ([email protected]

Combined Federal Campaign

) about your stock gift and we will gratefully reply with the information you need to make the transfer.

Estate planning

Leave a freethought legacy in your name that will significantly help carry forward the vital work of FFRF for generations to come.

Arrange a bequest in your will or trust, or make the Freedom From Religion Foundation the beneficiary of an insurance policy, bank account or your IRA. It’s easy to do.

For related information or to request a bequest brochure, please email Annie Laurie Gaylor or Lisa Strand or leave a message at 608-256-8900.

AmazonSmile

AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the exact same prices, selection and shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. Visit the AmazonSmile donation designation page and select the Freedom From Religion Foundation to donate 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to FFRF.

The AmazonSmile Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation created by Amazon to administer the AmazonSmile program. All donation amounts generated by the AmazonSmile program are remitted to the AmazonSmile Foundation.

In turn, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates those amounts to the charitable organizations selected by customers. Amazon pays all expenses of the AmazonSmile Foundation; they are not deducted from the donation amounts generated by purchases on AmazonSmile.

Camp Quest makes plans for the future

Youth and leaders pose for a photo at the first Camp Quest in 1996.

By Sarah Bingham Miller

At the beginning of 2020, all of us at Camp Quest were looking forward to our 25th summer of fun, friends and freethought.

In the summer of 1996, Edwin and Helen Kagin held the first Camp Quest in Kentucky. In the quarter-century since then, thousands of children have attended Camp Quest in locations from Virginia to California. Many young people have attended Camp Quest since they were 8 years old and continue to serve Camp Quest as counselors, board members and camp directors. In 2019, one session of Camp Quest Northwest had 11 former campers return as counselors!

And then in March, we all learned that we would not be able to hold residential camps safely this year because of the pandemic. Our network conducted an extensive national risk management assessment, carefully reviewing the evolving worldwide crisis and its impact on our programs.

Out of respect for the best scientific knowledge available, and placing the health and safety of our campers first, we decided to cancel residential camp sessions.

Our dedicated and inventive volunteers and staff worked hard to maintain the community so many find at Camp Quest. Camp Quest affiliates in Ohio, Minnesota and California held popular online camps. The Camp Quest National Support Center also provided online activities to campers impacted by school closures. All activities were free of charge, and we were able to serve over 300 campers online.

This year, our annual Leadership Summit will be held online for the first time. Our summits are a chance for staff and volunteers to gather, attend educational panels, share experiences and have meaningful connections. We are grateful to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for being one of our Session Sponsors in 2020, in addition to their generous support for camperships.

Camp Quest is also taking concrete steps to expand our programs. We are planning to launch new day camp and other year-round activities over the next few years.

In 2019, we conducted a feasibility study and created a new staff position to lead program expansion. In June of this year, Camp Quest welcomed Mary Sullivan as our new program manager. Mary brings 20 years of camp experience to the team, including time as an accreditation visitor with the American Camp Association.

Camp Quest’s programs are held to the highest professional standards, and our network has an ongoing partnership with the American Camp Association.

In 2019, as part of our program expansion feasibility study, we also conducted a survey of local secular groups to gauge their community needs for secular youth and family programs.

The desire for secular youth programs, especially day camps and afterschool programs, is widespread. Camp Quest’s vision is to support the growing secular community by making it easy for local groups to conduct their own youth and family programs. Camp curriculum and activity resources, as well as assistance with operations, administrative systems, staff screening and training, are key services local camps will gain through Camp Quest.

Though the summer of 2020 presented the camp industry with many challenges, Camp Quest has thrived due to the perseverance of our volunteers and the strength of our community. We know that many more families and youth can benefit from Camp Quest. We look forward to our next quarter-century of service to the secular community!

To keep informed about Camp Quest, sign up for the newsletter at campquest.org/newsletter.

To learn more about the Camp Quest Virtual Leadership Summit, go to campquest.org/summit.

Sarah Bingham Miller is the development director for Camp Quest.

FFRF announces Hansberry Scholarships

Hansberry Scholarships

FFRF is delighted to announce, in association with the Women’s Leadership Project, the establishment of the Lorraine Hansberry Humanist Scholarship Awards.

FFRF has funded for the first time this year $1,000 scholarships for five recently graduated high school seniors from Los Angeles. The honorees were chosen by the Women’s Leadership Project, which, with Young Male Scholars, conducts school and community-based peer education programming, outreach and professional development, offering invaluable life and job training skills.

Students meet weekly with program coordinators and interns and are trained in sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention, LGBTQ+ youth leadership outreach and homeless education. Students elect their own group officers and assume responsibility for campus outreach and other communications, writing blogs, articles, poems and crafting video. They initiated two youth-facilitated forums on Black homeless women, anti-racism and mental health, as well as LGBTQ+ Youth of Color and mental health sexual harassment and campus climate.

Five young women with a humanist orientation have been chosen for the $1,000 awards. They are:

• Ashley Harris, a graduate of Drew Medical Magnet High School, will be attending El Camino College and plans to transfer to San Diego State, with a goal to study law. “My family is filled with either nurses or musicians and I wanted to be different, to create a change in the law system and free wrongly committed individuals,” she says.

• Raina Lee will be attending college this fall as a math major, also taking computer science courses, with a goal to “expose other young black girls to the world of coding and teach them the leadership skills Women’s Leadership Project has taught me,” including sharing the confidence to become their own boss.

• Brianna Parnell, who graduated from Gardena High School, is a first-generation student attending California State University pursuing a BFA in interior design/architecture. She aspires to attend Pratt Institute in New York for graduate studies and to be “an owner of multiple Black-owned businesses that will put wealth back into my community.”

• Zorrie Petrus graduated from Gardena High School, and is majoring in photography. “Photography is my passion and I am working toward making it my career in life. I don’t really see many photographers who look like me so one of my goals is to change that,” she remarks.

• Ashantee Polk was the Women’s Leadership Project president at King/Crew Magnet High School, and will attend Los Angeles City College planning a degree in psychology, hoping to transfer in three years to Cal-State Fullerton: “I want to continue to be the activist I am because we have a lot of work to do as a country and it starts with my generation and me. A big shoutout to WLP for making my senior year great even through the pandemic.”

The award memorializes Lorraine Hansberry, the playwright, who famously wrote in 1964: “Though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such time, it is doubly so — doubly dynamic — to be young, gifted and Black.” Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959), was the first drama by a Black woman produced on Broadway. Winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, it was loosely based on her own experiences when her parents bought a house in a white neighborhood and were greeted by a racist mob, sparking her parents’ civil rights case. The play’s heroine, Beneatha, notably, is a “self-avowed” atheist who gets slapped by her mother for admitting it. The title for the play came from a line in a poem by another freethinker, Langston Hughes.

“We express our appreciation for Sikivu Hutchinson, a founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles, for her work with the Women’s Leadership Project and for making FFRF’s participation in this worthy cause possible,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. Hutchinson will be receiving FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award at its annual convention in Boston in November 2021.

Mourn Ginsburg’s death by calling your senators

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Photo from supremecourt.gov)

To repeat and second the dying words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is the most fervent wish of the Freedom From Religion Foundation that she will not be replaced until 2021.

The nation’s second female Supreme Court justice, the tenacious feminist, civil rights pioneer and cultural icon lionized by young admirers as “the Notorious RBG” spent the final 27 of her 87 years as a justice defending the rights that FFRF and our membership cherish most. The way to mourn the loss of this champion and honor her life is to channel our collective grief and dismay into practical activism.

The election is happening now. Early voting and mail-in voting have already started in some states. Election Day itself is closing in fast. For this reason, for reasons of common sense, parity and fairness, it’s essential that “We the People” should decide who will nominate Ginsburg’s replacement. That’s why the Senate should not consider, much less confirm, a replacement for Justice Ginsburg until after the inauguration, as Ginsburg wisely counseled from her deathbed.

President Trump said he would name a nominee by Sept. 26 (which is after this issue went to press).

FFRF remembers Ruth Bader Ginsburg with admiration and gratitude for championing the clear separation of religion and government, particularly in our 2007 Hein case before the Supreme Court against the White House “faith-based” office. She became the court’s leading defender of state-church separation and of genuine religious freedom.

“Our Constitution was designed to separate church from the state,” she said in a recent interview. “Each should stay out of the other’s business.”

Ever the optimist, Ginsburg knew, “So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” She endured condescension and sexist stereotyping when admitted as a woman to Harvard Law School, burning the midnight oil as a young mother and law student. The brainy standout was even refused a clerkship at the Supreme Court because of her gender. Yet a decade later, Ginsburg was pioneering, litigating and winning landmark gender discrimination cases before that court. She then went on to become only the second civil    rights attorney (Thurgood Marshall was the first) to be seated on the Supreme Court, confirmed by a lopsided 96-3 Senate vote. The diminutive Ginsburg did not give up through three grueling bouts of cancer, even conducting oral arguments and overseeing her latest votes and decisions from her hospital bed.

In recent years, as the high court has turned increasingly reactionary, her brilliance in defense of our secular government and civil liberties shone through in succinct dissents, often written with devastating clarity. Last term, she dissented when the five conservative justices upheld a 30-foot-tall Christian cross in a Maryland traffic circle, writing: “As I see it, when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content. . . .
Using the cross as a war memorial does not transform it into a secular symbol.” Her dissent in the recent Little Sisters decision that further empowered religious employers to deny workers contraceptive health care choices condemned the court for privileging religion over individual liberty: “Today, for the first time, the court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.”

Ginsburg dedicated her entire career, on and off the court, to providing “equal protection of the laws,” including for women, LGBTQ individuals, advancing justice for people of color and preserving our democracy. She often advised, “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” FFRF invites you to join us in fighting like your rights depend on it, like your country depends on it . . . because they do.

As Ginsburg noted: “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” Take that step. Call both your senators to insist that they ensure that the people get to decide who appoints Ginsburg’s replacement.

Call 202-224-3121 now, even if you think their votes are locked in. Then call them again the next day. Repeat.

FFRF provides $16K in scholarships: Humanists of Puerto Rico essay winners announced

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce that, in partnership with Humanistas Seculares De Puerto Rico (Humanists of Puerto Rico), it is awarding more than $16,000 in cash scholarships to Puerto Rican students, including 10 major winners and four honorable mentions.

Students were asked to write about “The importance of separation of church and state in Puerto Rican society.”

The Humanists of Puerto Rico publicized the contest and judged the 150 essays received, and FFRF is providing the prize money. FFRF had contacted HPR seeking the partnership and suggesting the contest be in Spanish. Currently, FFRF sponsors five other essay competitions. which are open to Puerto Rican students, but are in English.

The winners and honorable mentions are:

1. Fátima Isabel Rosado Figueroa ($3,500)

2. Roberto Orlando Rodríguez García ($3,000)

3. Jahn Michael Alago Velázquez ($2,500)

4. Ambar Marrero Pérez ($2,000)

5. Génesis Vega Pérez ($1,500)

6. Alejandra Gruber Acevedo ($1,000)

7. Julissa Esther Santana García ($750)

8. Zainely A. Sandoval Martínez ($500)

9. Gustavo Daniel Hernández Luciano ($400)

10. Lionel Reyes Ramírez ($300)

Honorable mentions ($200 each): Yanelie Díaz Román,

Aviel Ramírez Fossé, Evan Flores Rosado and Karina Negrón Tudó.

“I personally had the chance to call each one of the 10 major prize winners,” said Gerardo M. Rivera Chaparro, secretary of the Humanists. “The happiness I heard from them and their families was overwhelming.”

“Felicitaciones¡” says Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. Adds Annie Laurie Gaylor: “We’re delighted to be partnering with the Humanists of Puerto Rico, particularly at a time when so many public schools on the island were shuttered after Hurricane Maria, and when students are in need of educational support. We hope this will become an annual scholarship.”

FFRF recently went to court with the humanist group and a local family, successfully halting the unconstitutional imposition of mandatory 50-minute biweekly prayers upon students at a primary school in Toa Baja as part of the school day.

FFRF, Black Skeptics award $20K in tuition scholarships

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is announcing $20,000 in scholarships given to four students, making this its second annual distribution of the Forward Freethought Tuition Relief Scholarships, funded by generous FFRF benefactor Lance Bredvold. This year, the students were selected by Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), an African-American humanist-atheist community-based organization.

FFRF has previously partnered with BSLA in its annual “first in the family” humanist scholarships for outstanding secular students of color. This year, the tuition relief was doubled to $5,000 per student, thanks to the fund Bredvold has endowed for FFRF.

This year’s winners: Justin Fajar, 17, Dartmouth College (pre-med); Kitty Anne Dubuisson, 18, MCPHS University in Boston (pre-medical and health sciences); India Quick, 17, Fayetteville State University (business major); and Jalyn Williams, 19, Albright College (environmental studies).

“Secular African American youth disproportionately come from religious backgrounds and communities,” says BSLA founder Sikivu Hutchinson. “These youth are often marginalized in K-12 and higher education due to their nonconformity.”

BSLA is the first secular humanist atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color through its ongoing scholarship, college and K-12 youth leadership partnerships. FFRF has proudly partnered with BSLA for seven years to provide tuition grants, gradually increasing the funding and number of scholarships.

In the video by Justin Fajar, an aspiring pediatrician, he notes: “Mixing religious beliefs and medicine leads to discrimination and unnecessary deaths” and that “health care [should be] based on facts, not beliefs.”

Kitty Anne Dubuisson’s video notes: “It’s so important to question. Every great discovery started with wonder, someone unwilling to accept the norm. I came to realize that the qualities that would make me a good scientist also made me a terrible believer.”

In Jalyn Williams’ video, she notes that she prefers to work, not pray, for change and wants to offer more “secular opportunities for communities of color” to show that religion is not the only path for improvement for their communities. “I hope freethinking will become a more widely accepted world view in communities of color,” she said.

Both Fajar and Williams took part in a BSLA-hosted Zoom panel discussion on Sept. 26, with Black secular Gen Z youth recipients from the 2016 and 2020 classes of its First in the Family Humanist Scholarship/Freedom From Religion Foundation award.

You may donate to the Forward Freethought Tuition Scholarships (choose “Tuition Scholarships” in the dropdown designation). Donations will help future students and are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF gives $5K to exiled Bangladeshi freethinker

Photo from Noor’s Facebook page
Bangladeshi freethinker Asad Noor has been living in exile in India after being charged with blasphemy for defending a Buddhist monk.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to offer financial assistance to a Bangladeshi freethinker forced out of his country due to his defense of secularism and LGBTQ rights. FFRF is granting $5,000 to blogger Asad Noor, who is currently in exile in India.

The information minister of Bangladesh recently tried to seize a Buddhist monastery. When the monk who founded the institution tried to speak up, false charges of blasphemy were slapped against him. This is where Noor showed his courage by speaking out on behalf of a religion that a tiny percentage of the population follows in his home nation. The consequences were severe.

“Soon afterwards, police came to Noor’s home and tried to locate him,” states a Foreign Policy magazine op-ed. “When they could not find him, they decided to torture and threaten his family instead. Today, Asad Noor is a fugitive on the run for the crime of defending a Buddhist monk on social media and speaking up for the LGBT community in Bangladesh.”

Noor has been charged under the Digital Security Act, 2018, for defaming Islam — an offense punishable with a jail term of up to 10 years, the Indian news site News18 reports. Noor has already been imprisoned several times in Bangladesh for his outspokenness, spending many months in jail. He has also been detained in India for six months, allegedly for lacking proper papers.

A number of reputed international organizations, such as Amnesty International, Humanists International, Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists have expressed concern over the Bangladeshi government’s maltreatment of Noor and his family members.

“The harassment of Asad’s family is not an isolated incident,” Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said in a press statement. “It is part of a worrying pattern targeting families of human rights defenders in exile.”

FFRF applauds the immense courage Noor has displayed in defending freethought and secular principles.

“Noor has shown tremendous daring,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “All the persecution he and his family have been subjected to seems to have left him unfazed.”

The Bangladeshi activist is expressing his appreciation for FFRF’s support.

“If you are with us, I am confident that one day we will be able to establish a freethinking-based society in Bangladesh — and assure the rights of atheists and other minority people. It was the dream of our iconoclast and beloved Dr. Avijit Roy,” says Noor, referencing the assassinated Bangladeshi-American freethinker in the memory of whom FFRF has instituted an award. “Freedom will certainly come through the light of reason if we continue our activism. And I feel it is our duty to fulfill his dream so that his sacrifice will not go in vain.”

FFRF has also recently given a $5,000 stipend to an endangered Egyptian atheist who has fled to another Muslim nation that must remain undisclosed for his safety, where he and is family are stranded as they await resettlement via an international agency.

“It is a measure of the terror spread by Islamic anti-apostasy laws that we cannot even reveal where he currently resides,” adds Gaylor. “Thoughts should be free — and being an atheist or freethinker should not be a crime anywhere.”

FFRF welcomes its newest Lifetime, After-Life members

FFRF thanks and welcomes its two new Beyond After-Life members, one After-Life Member and 13 new Lifetime Members.

Robert Bliemeister and Daniel Kozloff are the two newest Beyond After-Life Members, which is a tongue-in-cheek-named donation category of $10,000 for those who want their contribution to extend beyond their lives.

Raymond Stefanski is FFRF’s newest After-Life Members, which is a generous donation category of $5,000.

FFRF’s newest $1,000 Lifetime Members are: Peter Brush, Dennis Coyier, Tom Fitch, Gerry Fritsch, Robert Fritsch, Daniel T. Gilmartin, Susan Gilmore, Daniel McCartney, Fred Muzzin, Eric Thomas, Paul L. Wellmer, Glenn Wismer and Helen Wolfson.

States represented are: California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Countries represented are: Japan and Germany.