FFRF victories (Oct. 2021)

By Casandra Zimmerman

N.D. basketball coach stops praying with team

In North Dakota, a Mott/Regent School District basketball coach will no longer participate in his team’s prayers after games. 

A district resident informed FFRF that the Mott/Regent basketball team concluded every game with a prayer, and that the coach had been a participant. 

FFRF’s Patrick O’Reilly Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald sent a letter to Superintendent Willie Thibault, informing him that a coach participating in prayer in their official capacity can equate to the school’s endorsement of religion. 

Rachel A. Bruner, representing the Mott/ Regent School District, wrote to FFRF assuring that no coach would engage in prayer with students at a public event and that all coaches will be reminded of the implications of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Texas school board ends prayers at meetings

The school board in Duncanville, Texas, has stopped opening its board meetings with prayer after FFRF got involved.

A concerned Village Tech Schools parent contacted FFRF stating that the board had been opening each meeting with a prayer, which was included on the meeting agenda. FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote a letter to Chairman Daniel Price, requesting that, instead of a prayer, a moment of silence “would allow the board’s meetings to come to order without ostracizing portion of those in attendance.” 

Joseph Hoffer, attorney for Village Tech Schools, responded to FFRF’s letter, stating that the school took immediate action in getting rid of the prayer and replacing it with “moment of inspiration.”

FFRF gets grad ceremony changes made in S.D.

Unconstitutional prayer at a South Dakota graduation and school sponsorship of baccalaureate ceremony will not happen again, the superintendent of Menno Public School District insists.

A letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald was sent to Superintendent Tom Rice after a district parent contacted FFRF. The letter stated that “the school’s role in hosting the baccalaureate on school property, scheduling it immediately before graduation, and live-streaming the two events together would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the district endorses the religious messages espoused at these services.”

A response from Rice included how the school would conduct graduation ceremonies in the future to not violate the Constitution and plans to move the baccalaureate ceremony somewhere other than school property. 

Invocation, benediction removed from ceremony

Invocations and benedictions are no longer included in Orville (Ohio) City School District’s graduation ceremonies.

A student’s parents notified FFRF that their daughter’s graduation ceremony contained multiple state/church violations, such as an invocation, a benediction, and a commencement address given by a local pastor, who said, among other things, “You are either heading toward God or away from God. Please remember today that prayer and faith will always point you in God’s direction. Do your best not to go in the wrong direction.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote in a letter to Superintendent Jon Ritchie that “The court stated that in this context, ‘Regardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to, the message, an objective . . . student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable . . . stamped with her school’s seal of approval.’” 

Ritchie responded by quoting the Board of Education’s policy manual and affirming that the ceremony will include neither benediction nor invocation. Student remarks will also be reviewed beforehand to ensure they follow the policy and the law.

Ky. school will not use ‘prayer lockers’ anymore

A Carter County middle school in Kentucky is no longer implementing a program that involved “prayer lockers,” in which students were informed of four lockers that a prayer team would check and would be “honored to take your concerns to Our Heavenly Father on your behalf!” 

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to the Superintendent Ronnie Dotson. In the letter, Line asked the district to remove all prayer lockers from district property, as “the district serves a diverse student body that consists of not only Christians, but also minority religious and nonreligious students.”

Ryan Tomolonis, director of personnel, responded and said that after talking with both Dotson and the East Carter Middle School principal Aaron Baldwin, that the program would no longer be implemented.

School to train faculty on state/church issue

A school-sanctioned invocation and prayer at Loftis Middle School in Hamilton, Tenn., are not going to happen again after FFRF sent a letter to Scott Bennett, counsel for the school. 

Principal Mary Gaitlin had instructed students and parents to “bow their heads and pray,” and later a student recited a prayer that ended “in Jesus’ name.” FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald reminded Bennett in the letter that “The Supreme Court has settled this matter — graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.” 

Bennett responded, letting FFRF know that the school will hold training for all the faculty on the separation of state and church. 

Texas school won’t post bible studies on Facebook

Amarillo Independent School District in Texas has stopped promoting bible studies and other religious activities on its Facebook page.

A concerned parent contacted FFRF to report that South Georgia Elementary School had been promoting different bible study groups on its Facebook page. FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line sent a letter to Superintendent Doug Loomis, informing him that posting bible clubs on the school’s page can amount to the promotion of religion. 

FFRF received a response from attorney Andrea Slater Gulley, who informed Line that after reviewing standards for appropriate use of district-operated social media, it was decided that the accounts would only be used “for promoting campus announcements.”

Crankmail (Oct. 2021)

Welcome to this issue’s Crankmail, where we post correspondence received (via snail mail, email or social media) from those who seem to take issue with FFRF’s cause. Printed as received.

Ridiculous: Just read in the local newspaper in Canton Ohio that thanks to you a prayer will no longer be said before the local board meetings. Don’t give me state-religion separation, the Constitution doesn’t and never has mandated that. The person who summoned you from our area won’t even give her name, that takes a lot of courage to stand up for some cock-amaney belief. I would hope when your judgement day comes, the Man upstairs remembers this and you are held accountable. — Robert Feller

The Bible is true: There are no contradictions in the bible, these fools are like many in a church who read the bible and think there are contradictions as well. 1st retarded argument about 8 0r 18, in Hebrew the difference is a tick mark, and he is talking about a translated document to English from 2 different books. I went to court a few years ago and there were mistakes in the police report that would never have been fixed if someone didnt go to court- and that was 5 years ago not 5000. I laugh when she say Liberals are more Rational, roglmao. — Stella Murtaugh

Go away!: Once again you’re are butting your nose into places it does not belong. Stay out of Texas, we do not want you here. You need to stay up there where you are and tend to your own business. So shut the hell up, we do not care about your Freedom from Religion Foundation. You people are freaks. If you don’t believe in God, then why does a cross bother you so much??? Don’t mess w/Texas, we DO NOT WANT YOU HERE and we don’t care about your cause. — Sue Overbeek 

Silly: I find it hard to believe that you can’t find something else to do rather than stir up trouble about a cross in the city park. Just because your foundation doesn’t believe in Christianity doesn’t mean you can impose your disbelief on us. It just makes your foundation look very silly. — Kay Horvath

COWARDS: Thank you so much for posting pictures of your board. I’m going to use them to teach my kids what a coward looks like. — Peter Wolcott

Learn the constitution: Your entire organization is a joke and a waste of time. You attack Christian people like my old coach. The constitution says freedom of religion, meaning you can choose whatever you want or don’t want. It doesn’t say “from”. So preventing a coach or player from practicing his or her religion on or off school campus is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, as well is attacking the people that do. No one has the right to take away my rights or the rights of the tea chers and coaches. You might want to read the constitution a few more times because your entire organization just got torn apart by a 19 year old that knows more than you do about the rights of citizens and the U.S. constitution. — Nolan Ploth

Discrimination: Christians can sue your organization for discriminating against the Christians. Christians has the same amount of freedom of speech like everyone else does. This means you lost this round. You media wanna-be atheist attention can’t win all the time. Makes it unfair! Enough is enough! Also I’m telling the media not to broadcast your protest on radio, tv and news paper worldwide. Make sure you tell your attorneys what I said. — Mike Robinson

Yuck!: You are the scum of the earth…nothing your organization does means a damn thing to intelligent people…you are disgusting but I’m sure you already know that…get a life or a job for CHRIST sakes!! — Bobby Unger

Stay away from us: you need to mind your own business. Your not even from our town. Stick your nose in hell…a warrior for God — Sally Pantages

Secular Day of the Dead celebration set for Nov. 2

Secular Day of the Dead

You are invited to join FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor during the 2021 Secular Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos secular celebration beginning at 6:45 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday, Nov. 2, via Zoom.

Barker and Gaylor will join leading secular voices to welcome participants during this bilingual event to be followed by the Honoring Ceremony, featuring dedications from distinguished guests and participants. Participants are encouraged to share a photograph or portraits of a deceased loved ones during the Honoring Ceremony. Prizes will be awarded and mailed to participants whom the cosponsors determine to have the best Secular Day of the Dead-themed clothing, Zoom setting, face painting, face mask, and hair adornment.  

Both an English and a Spanish speaker’s Zoom breakout room will be available after the keynote speech by Jon Huertas. See full details at ftsociety.org. Advance registration is requested. To reserve a 3- to 5-minute time slot to celebrate a deceased loved one, email [email protected]. 

FFRF lawsuit moves forward

Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert stands next to a Ten Commandments monument.

Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert so far has avoided contempt of court after initially refusing to allow plaintiffs, including FFRF, to have access to a list of donors who helped pay for a Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds.

Rapert sponsored legislation to have the monument installed, and when it was first erected in 2017, it was rammed purposely by a vehicle and was destroyed. A replacement monument, surrounded by 3-foot-tall concrete posts, was then installed in 2018 in the same spot.

Shortly thereafter, FFRF joined a coalition of freethinking groups (including the American Humanist Association, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and several individuals) in suing Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, who allowed the installation to occur. (The defendant is now John Thurston, the current secretary of state.) The ACLU of Arkansas also filed its own lawsuit.

Rapert then took part in a videotaped deposition regarding the case, but didn’t want it going public (allegedly for fear of his words being taken out of context). He also refused to offer any financial documents regarding who funded the monument or how much was raised. So, on Sept. 8, Rapert had to explain to the judge why he shouldn’t be held in contempt for refusing to cooperate.

At that hearing, the attorney for the American History and Heritage Foundation (AHHF, which Rapert formed to fund the monument) agreed to provide most of the materials FFRF and the other groups requested. AHHF was required to provide documents to the plaintiff’s attorney Gerry Schulze within 10 days and Schulze was to report back to the court if the documents produced were unsatisfactory.

The judge said a status hearing would be held sometime before the end of October.

FFRF runs ad in NY Times

This full-page ad ran in the Sept. 12 New York Times.

FFRF ran a full-page ad in the Sunday, Sept. 12, New York Times asking people to counter the religiously inspired war on women’s rights.

The advertisement featured a sketch of a “handmaid” in a reference to Margaret Atwood’s classic. “Roe v. Wade is in grave peril,” it warns.

The ad spotlights the recent egregious Texas abortion prohibition — and the U.S. Supreme Court’s nod to the anti-women measure.

“The Supreme Court majority ominously signaled its stunning hostility to reproductive rights by cruelly refusing to block the draconian ban on abortion in Texas,” it states. “It has also agreed to review an unconstitutional Mississippi ban.”

And the ad puts the national anti-abortion campaign in the full context.

“Emboldened Christian nationalists in state governments have ramped up their relentless, religiously motivated war on abortion,” it cautions. “Our federal judiciary has been stacked with Trump-appointed extremists.”

The ad calls on New York Times readers to mobilize in defense of secular values.

“Join FFRF in defending the treasured constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and in our call for court reform,” it concludes. “Support FFRF in our vital work for emancipation from religious dogma.”

FFRF is placing the advertisement in the country’s most prominent paper because it is deeply concerned about the state of women’s rights in the country.

“Things haven’t been this dire in a long time,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “‘Freethinkers need to come together to uphold the Constitution.”

The educational ad was made possible thanks to the generosity of FFRF members donating to FFRF’s Advertising Fund.

James A. Haught: Religious war remains a huge problem around the world

James A. Haught

By James A. Haught

The Taliban seizure of Afghanistan underscores an ugly 21st century fact: Religion-based warfare remains the world’s worst type of armed conflict.

After the CIA under President Reagan helped brutal Muslim tribal warlords drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, these chieftains started fighting each other. That’s when the Taliban, a movement of armed Islamic students, swept through the mountain nation.

Puritanical Taliban officials were notorious for their hatred of sex. They ordered all women to wear shroud-like burqas outdoors because “the face of a woman is a source of corruption” for men. Females, essentially, couldn’t be educated. Those who secretly attended underground schools were executed, along with their teachers. Girls’ schools were burned. Women weren’t allowed to work or go outdoors without a family male escort. They couldn’t wear high heels under their burkas because clicking heels might excite lustful men. Apartment windows were painted over. Wearing form-fitting clothes was a capital offense. Public stonings or other executions of women occurred. A huge number of brides were forced into marriage.

The Taliban allowed the al-Qaeda terror network to operate from Afghanistan. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States invaded and drove out the fanatics. But two decades of costly American effort to create an Afghan democracy failed, and now the Taliban rule again. Much of the world is holding its breath, waiting to see if sexual savagery returns.

Actually, the Taliban is merely one of many armed Islamist militias. There’s Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia, ISIS in Syria and al-Qaeda hidden somewhere.

Back in 2017, when the Taliban seemed rather dormant, a scholarly book stated: “Boko Haram is now the deadliest terrorist organization operation in the world.” The fundamentalist Sunni group is notorious for raiding villages and cities, massacring civilians (including Shiite and Sufi Muslims), raping and abducting girls, and seizing boys to become soldiers. I wonder if Boko Haram someday may seize Nigeria, as the Taliban did Afghanistan.

Around the globe, warfare — especially between countries — has faded enormously in the 21st century. It’s fascinating to think that the world might have become war-free if not for religion.

FFRF Member James A. Haught was the longtime editor at the Charleston Gazette and has been the editor emeritus since 2015. He has won two dozen national newswriting awards and is author of 12 books and 150 magazine essays. 

Winners of FFRF’s college essay contest

Essay contests

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 10 winners and eight honorable mentions of the 2020 Michael Hakeem Memorial Essay Contest for Ongoing College. FFRF has paid out a total of $17,050 in award money to this year’s college contest winners.

Ongoing college students up to the age of 24 were asked to write a personal persuasive essay on the topic of “How Religion Divides Us and Secularism Unites Us.” 

This contest is named for the late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor who was an FFRF board chair and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning skills. His bequest has been used to fund college essays since his death in 2006.

Winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below, and winning essays are reprinted or excerpted in this issue.

First place

Ryan Rindels, 18, University of New 

Mexico, $3,500.

Second place

Meredith Corda, 21, University of

California Berkeley, $3,000.

Third place

Belinda Becker-Jacob, 19, University of

Denver, $2,500.

Fourth Place

Lindsey Bridges, 23, University of

Central Florida, $2,000.

Fifth place

Madeline Kumagai, 23, Clovis

Community College (California),

$1,500.

Sixth place (Mr. Madison Arnold Award)

Nikola Velimirovic, 21, University of 

Nevada-Las Vegas, $1,000.

Seventh place

Sarah Nicell, 19, Franklin & Marshall 

College (Pennsylvania), $750.

Eighth place

Keara Hayes, 19, Michigan State

University, $500.

Ninth place

Angelique Robinson, 18, Florida State

University, $400.

Tenth place 

Samantha Gregory, 19, Florida State

University, $300.

Honorable mentions ($200 each)

Stephanie Clavijo, 23, University of California-Davis

Kennedy Coates, 21, Agnes Scott College (Georgia)

Michale Fite, 19, University of San Francisco

Ellie McDonald, 18, University of Colorado-Boulder

Eveliina Niva, 20, University of California

Yassmine Ramadan, 19, Minerva University (California)

Lauren Rickard, 19, University of Texas-Arlington

Olivia Sato, 19, Northeastern University

FFRF also thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of this and FFRF’s other student essays competitions. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our “faithful faithless” volunteer and staff readers and judges, including: 

Don Ardell, Dan Barker, Darrell Barker, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Sammi Lawrence, Katya Maes, Gloria Marquardt, Amit Pal, Dave Petrashek, Sue Schuetz, Lauryn Seering, PJ Slinger, Karen Lee Weidig and Jenny Siklos Wilson.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010, one for students of color since 2016 and a fifth contest for law students since 2019. All contests are open to any students attending a school in North America who meet the age/grade level eligibility, except the students of color contest, which is reserved for students of color to offer special support for a minority within a minority.

FFRF will be announcing the winners of the students of color contest and grad contest in upcoming issues of Freethought Today.

First place: College essay contest — Ryan Rindels 

Ryan Rindels

Is anyone listening?

FFRF awarded Ryan $3,500.

By Ryan Rindels 

The divisiveness of religion was only revealed to me as I began to depart from it. Sixteen years I had spent marinating in the evangelical Christian faith — in its community, in its doctrines, and in its unfailing support.

I spent my nights in prayer, external from family dinners and church services, in order to capture alone time with God. I could feel the tangible threads of a relationship already developing in the short time I had been alive. I longed for the day I would reach eternal salvation, forever alive with the ones that I love, free of fear or worry. I questioned the justice of eternal damnation, and never truly believed that homosexuality was a sin, but these were quiet doubts, overshadowed by a far more powerful feeling inside of me. 

One night, I continued my nightly prayer ritual, but instead of feeling satisfied, I gazed up at my bedroom ceiling and felt the most unbearable silence I had ever experienced. I was incredibly unsettled, and failed to fall asleep for several hours. This was NOT the reason for my de-conversion, but rather, it was the catalyst that asked the question in my mind for the first time: “Is anyone listening?” 

The questions I had suppressed steadily creeped to the forefront of my brain as time went on. Most of my questions regarded Hell, but others challenged the biblical narrative, the philosophical aspects of a God, and the personal experiences my friends and family held dear. Following two years of further doubt and discovery, it was finally time to entirely reject the ideas I had been forced to believe. 

My perspective shift to an outsider revealed a countless number of cracks I had been unable to see under the Christian veil. The religion that I was a part of for so long was NOT a religion of hope, joy, inclusion, freethought, or even love, as it is often described. Historically, this is hardly controversial. Christianity has been used to justify numerous atrocities, such as the Crusades or the Atlantic slave trade. Even today, Christianity is the enemy of unity, constantly battling any ideas contrary to the biblical narrative, even those that push for equality. 

Personally, I have experienced the extreme shame that my religion gave me, for thoughts and actions that were entirely healthy as an adolescent. I believed that my community was unrivaled, and yet it pushed back against inclusion at every step of the way. I believed my beliefs were truly my own, instead of being compelled to believe falsehoods. Especially during the year of my deconversion, I witnessed a level of demonization toward others by Christians that was devoid of any sort of love. And finally, I found my religion to be one of the most hopeless propositions ever offered, except to a select few. For the majority of humankind, only futility can be seen.  

Secularism is quite the opposite. An openness to new ideas, inclusion of everybody, and a caring for humankind can only lead to unity. Though I can only honestly speak to the religion that I was a part of, it is truly an obstacle to progress. So much pain has been caused even within my own family by my different belief system. I can’t imagine how others have been forced to cope with a similar struggle. My words seem to evaporate in the face of my church community. I have yet to feel like anyone has been listening, let alone a divine being. 

I truly believe that the only way to unify the world is to embrace openness. Secularism is beneficial, but even the religious can attempt to understand those different from them and approach new ideas free of bias. It is my hope that the world will embrace openness and break away from the rigid exclusion that religion has always provided. 

Ryan, 18, is from Los Lunas, N.M., and attends the University of New Mexico, with plans to graduate with a degree in film and digital arts. “I recently left the evangelical Christian faith I was indoctrinated into,” Ryan writes. “While a Christian, I participated in feeding the homeless, and plan to do so apart from religion.”

Second place: College essay contest — Meredith Corda

Meredith Corda

Out of the shadows

FFRF awarded Meredith $3,000.

By Meredith Corda

“Ave Verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine 

Vere passum, immolatum 

In cruce pro homine” 

As I sang those words, surrounded by my peers, feeling the swells of the music, I couldn’t help but let tears well up in my eyes and eventually spill down my cheeks. Overcome with raw emotion, I continued to sing, my heart aching, but my voice somehow still intact. 

In the six years I sang in choirs, I fell in love with the processes behind an excellent choir: what it took to perfect the blend of voices, the hours spent on tiny details in order to improve and better convey meaning to an audience. 

Creating synergy within a choir depends on an emotional connection to the music, or so I was taught. We held long conversations about each song, because syncing up every consonant, breath and pitch was not enough. We had to sing with one mind. 

We all knew what this song was about, more or less: Jesus dying on the cross and his mother Mary’s suffering. I knew the story all too well. Having grown up going to Catholic Church for 10 years, I was familiar yet uncomfortable with the subject. Several of my closest friends were devoutly Christian and LDS, and would often talk about church or their youth groups at school. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I finally accepted that I did not believe in a god, but I kept that to myself for years, opting to hide in the background of conversations about religion, which was difficult for an outgoing person like myself. It felt like I was keeping a dark secret. In many ways, I envied my religious friends; the way they could talk about their beliefs with what seemed like no fear, but also no consideration for those without the same beliefs. 

In class that day, as we read the translation from Latin, the room was tense. Our director asked if anyone was comfortable enough to share their personal connection with the music. Of course, several students stood and described their personal, religious connection to the song. I distinctly remember looking around the room and feeling like a “closeted” atheist — shameful, uncomfortable, and sad. Sad that I would not be able to feel the same way about the song, sad that we were even talking about religion this much in a public high school classroom, and sad for the other students in the class I knew felt the same way. Not just other atheists, but students of other faiths who probably felt equally as alienated. I knew that there was more to the song than a love for a god, and even though at the time I didn’t feel very comfortable opening up about my lack of faith, I knew that if we all truly were going to buy into something meaningful, it was not going to be a religious sentiment. So, I stood, and as gracefully as I could, offered a more secular interpretation: that we should simply sing with the theme of parental love in our minds, something I was sure we all could find a way to relate to. 

Even though this was over four years ago, I can still remember the relief I felt in that moment. I was not met with any judgment and my interpretation sparked several other talking points and nudged other nonreligious students to stand up and share what they thought. I can truly say that this experience helped me realize the unifying power of secular thought, even if it is not explicitly anti-religious. When we finally performed the song, I was blown away by just how connected we all really were. Going forward, I became more outspoken about my secular views and gained confidence in myself, which is why I wholeheartedly encourage all secularists to be brave and do the same.

Meredith, 21, attends the University of California Berkeley with a double major of rhetoric and German. “I am a member of Cal’s cross country and track and field teams,” Meredith writes. “I hope to attend law school after I graduate and am interested in international and environmental law.”

Third place: College essay contest — Belinda Becker-Jacob 

Belinda Becker-Jacob

Masquerading as morals, religion divides

FFRF awarded Belinda $2,500.

By Belinda Becker-Jacob 

“Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. [The Texas Legislature] worked together on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill that I’m about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.” These words were proudly spoken on May 19 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at the signing ceremony for the Texas Heartbeat Act. He had just banned abortions past six weeks of gestation.  

This major law robbing countless women of reproductive rights bears no scientific or medical basis; it is grounded merely in religious reasoning. Following the bill’s passage, religious groups such as the Texas Right to Life and the Human Coalition rejoiced, hailing the law as a restoration of lost morals and a terribly belated protection of human life. Over the years, countless such events and legal actions have demonstrated the divisive nature of religion in the public sphere — and the power of secular institutions to strengthen the ties between those of different backgrounds. 

As a liberal, pro-choice female, I find the heartbeat law heinous, its restrictions preposterous and unjust. But most disturbing is the justification — or lack thereof — behind it. The primary proponents of the bill are religious anti-choice individuals such as Abbott and organizations who claim their views are simply the “word of God” or cite biblical verses. For ethical reasons, no atheist groups have publicly supported it. Although I was raised as a humanist with a strong belief in the separation of church and state, realizing the risk of religion hindering reproductive rights has reinforced to me the need for a secular government. Appalled by recent events, my rejection of religion has only deepened.

Unfortunately, the Texas Heartbeat Act has not been the only legal action in which religion has prevailed. Religious institutions have won numerous recent Supreme Court cases, including some limiting reproductive rights. 

The 2014 case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores established that for-profit religious institutions are exempt from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requirement that employers provide FDA-approved contraceptive methods. This set a precedent for Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and John Home v. Pennsylvania (2020) in which the SCOTUS majority upheld that the federal government “had the authority to provide exemptions from the [ACA] regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections” (Little Sisters v. Pennsylvania, 2020). 

Both cases were rightfully controversial, drawing supporters and their adversaries to Washington. This conflict has incited violence, including menacing protests outside abortion clinics and the murder of prominent abortion physician George Tiller by anti-choice activists. 

Secularism, however, has served as a unifying force in the sea of hatred and division. In 1962, the New York State Board of Regents authorized a voluntary “nondenominational” prayer recitation every morning at elementary schools. Although the school board argued the prayer did not establish an official religion and thus did not violate the Establishment Clause, seven justices referenced the vastly important separation of church and state, ultimately ruling that the practice was unconstitutional and must be ceased. This landmark decision of Engel v. Vitale ensured public educational institutions remain nondenominational, creating a more inclusive environment for students of various backgrounds and undoubtedly impacting my own schooling experience positively.

The right of freedom from religion is vital and often ignored. My humanist, liberal upbringing taught me that religion is not equivalent to morality or fairness, and recent events have demonstrated the truth of these ideas, furthering my belief in them. But equally importance to an ethical society is the law. The sheer danger religion poses to the legal rights of millions has led me to advocate for the separation of church and state, which protects and unites us all.  

Belinda, 19, is from New York City, and attends the University of Denver, where she is a member of the Delta Alpha Pi Honor society. She writes that “in addition to being passionate about the separation of church and state issues, I am committed to disability rights and supporting the needs of the neurodiverse population, serving as the student representative of DU’s Neurodiversity Resources Group.”  She hopes to use her political science degree to work in advocacy or a similar field and change people’s perceptions of those who are labeled “different.”