Photos and cartoons

Re-shooting his iconic ad

Ron Reagan

Ron Reagan gets a last-minute touch-up prior to the re-shooting of the iconic ad he recorded for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

FFRF Multimedia Director Bruce Johnson flew to Seattle to operate the camera and oversee the production crew. The ad is being updated largely to improve lighting, and features Ron, a former ballet dancer, seated on stage in an auditorium. It will retain most of the original text, including Ron’s humorous line, “Ron Reagan, unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.” 

The 30-second spot is scheduled to run four weeks in a row next February on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” That was FFRF’s original goal back in 2014, but the national network only this year has started accepting the advertisement. The ad, thanks to kind donors to FFRF’s advertising fund, runs as finances permit. In the first six months of 2021, it was the source cited by about half of new members about how they found out about FFRF. Thank you, Ron!

Boston beckons for FFRF’s exciting convention

Steven Pinker (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Sikivu Hutchinson
Gloria Steinem
Anny Druyan
Margaret Atwood

When you think of Boston, what comes to mind first? The marathon? Baked beans? The Red sox or Celtics? 

Well, for Freedom From Religion Foundation members, maybe it’ll be that FFRF’s 44th annual convention will be held there from Friday, Nov. 19–Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. (The event is limited to those who are fully vaccinated for Covid-19. See back page for details on “Covid rules.”)

“We look forward to a celebratory event and warm reunion with members,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’ve put together an amazing line-up of leading authors and freethought and secular activists.”

The conference will open informally on Thursday night, Nov. 18, with early registration and a two-hour appetizer reception at the Boston Park Plaza. Registration resumes at 7 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, with early morning coffee, tea and breakfast pastries. Registration continues throughout the conference. The full, two-day program formally opens at 9 a.m. Friday and continues through Saturday night. The membership meeting will take place at 9 a.m. Sunday, followed by a short meeting of the State Representatives, concluding by noon.

Headliners previously announced include distinguished author Margaret (The Handmaid’s Tale) Atwood, freethinking feminist Gloria Steinem, Power Worshippers author Katherine Stewart and Secular Studies pioneer Phil Zuckerman. Joining that list are now veteran Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, whose new book, Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court, will be just released, as well as FFRF Honorary President Steve Pinker, whose latest book, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters, will also be hot off the press. Greenhouse will receive FFRF’s Clarence Darrow Award for her outstanding legal reporting and analysis.

Additionally, the mother-daughter duo of Ann Druyan and Sasha Sagan will end the conference Saturday night following the banquet dinner. Druyan co-authored with Carl Sagan many classic science books, and writes and produces the award-winning “Cosmos” TV series.

Druyan will receive FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, reserved for public figures who make known their dissent from religion. Her daughter Sasha is author of the well-received new book, For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World.

FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, author of Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American, will lead a workshop on Christian nationalism and its ties to Jan. 6. Professor Chris Cameron will speak about his book, Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism. David Tamayo, co-founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, will speak. 

Activists honored at the event will include secular students, Freethinkers of the Year such as FFRF member David Williamson and other recent successful state/church plaintiffs and Black Skeptics Los Angeles founder and author Sikivu Hutchinson, who will be receiving FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award. Indian actor Sushant Singh, who has protested against Hindu nationalism, is scheduled to receive the Avijit Roy Courage Award.

Megan Phelps-Roper, author of the new book Unfollow: On Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, will receive the Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award.

The event will include a report on FFRF accomplishments by Gaylor and Co-President Dan Barker, an hour-long legal report by FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert and FFRF’s attorneys, a little music at the piano by Barker, FFRF book and product tables, the traditional drawing for “clean,” pre-“In God We Trust” currency, and some complimentary food receptions. There will be opportunities for socializing and meeting with authors during book signings.

There will also be two optional author receptions. After “An evening with Margaret Atwood” Friday night, involving a moderated conversation with author Katherine Stewart, a short private reception for Ms. Atwood will take place, limited to 100 individuals. Tickets to the reception are $500 and will include a copy of The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. 

Friday evening will end with a complimentary dessert reception and hot beverages for all participants.

Gloria Steinem will be interviewed by FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on Saturday afternoon, taking some audience questions, followed by a half-hour reception limited to 50 individuals. That $500 ticket will include a copy of Ms. Steinem’s newest book, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! Thoughts on Life, Love, and Rebellion. Both Atwood and Steinem will receive FFRF’s “Forward Award,” reserved for those who have moved society forward.

The schedule and updates will be published in upcoming issues of Freethought Today and on FFRF’s website, ffrf.org/convention-2021.

Pre-registration deadline is Oct. 31, 2021, unless the convention sells out earlier. We encourage you to plan ahead.

FFRF: Records reveal link between the Trump White House, Capitol Ministries

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has recently acquired records confirming that senior officials in the Trump administration used taxpayer-funded time and resources to organize extremist weekly bible studies, including a large event at the Museum of the Bible.

Although Capitol Ministries fortunately appears to no longer be active in the White House, it has not gone away. The group’s founder and president, Ralph Drollinger, remains active on Capitol Hill and at the state level haranguing lawmakers to legislate according to his homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic version of Christianity.

The stated mission of Capitol Ministries, a Christian nationalist organization, is to “evangelize elected and appointed political leaders and lead them toward maturity in Christ.” Drollinger was the likely inspiration for the citation of Romans 13 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to justify the Trump administration’s egregious family separation policy, literally putting kids in cages after separating them from their parents.

Capitol Ministries held a December 2019 event at the Museum of the Bible, where it said attendees “heard from White House cabinet members, U.S. senators and representatives about the importance of teaching God’s word to people in political power and how the Washington, D.C., bible study they regularly attend impacts their lives personally and professionally.” 

FFRF sought public records related to this event from all the departments involved, and the records, although they took well over a year to arrive, confirm several high-level officials’ involvement and the use of staff time to organize and promote the religious event.

The records further reveal details of the event, including an email describing the event as having a panel of “100 new ministry leaders and their wives.” This casual sexism is par for the course for Drollinger, who has said mothers who work outside the home are sinners: “Women with children at home who either serve in public office, or are employed on the outside, pursue a path that contradicts God’s revealed design for them. It is a sin.”

Disgraced former Texas Gov. and ex-Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who resigned his cabinet position in shame after Trump blamed Perry for setting up the infamous Ukraine call that led to the former president’s first impeachment, is now “spearheading CapMin’s nationwide effort to recruit ministry leaders across America to teach the bible in weekly studies to local government public servants in their neighborhoods,” according to Capitol Ministries. FFRF has had a long history of challenging Perry’s improper use of his public offices to promote fundamentalist Christianity, including suing him for initiating an evangelical prayer rally in 2011.

In memoriam: Gary Dann empowered others

Gary L. Dann
Gary Dann poses next to some resting seals in the Galapagos.

Gary L. Dann, atheist and father of FFRF’s Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann, died on May 13, 2021, after a high-risk surgical procedure.

“People can have a sense of humor, be an atheist or an iconoclast,” said Mark during the eulogy at the funeral. “Gary Dann was all of those things, and he did them well with aplomb. He always brought along people for the ride in life and people always wanted to join him. He never isolated. He always included.” 

Formerly of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Gary was married to his wife Carol for 52 years. He was a graduate of The Ohio State University, where he was a member of Phi Sigma Delta. 

He was also in the Army Reserves while working as a successful insurance and financial planner, and later founded Concorde Financial. He was a season ticket holder of the Philadelphia Eagles and previously of the Cleveland Browns. 

Gary, a member of FFRF, was an avid tennis player who studied Spanish, visited Civil War sites, collected and sent innumerable email jokes, and sun-worshipped on the beach. As an active tutor and volunteer with Hopeworks Camden and the Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council (IHOC), he enjoyed seeing others become independent and live their lives on their own terms.

“One of Dad’s many gifts was empowering others with dignity so they can be themselves and stand up to others who weren’t going to let that happen,” Mark said during the eulogy. “His wisdom, steadfastness, and kindness were unmatched, and we all felt it.

 “Later in life, as a devout atheist, he would substitute ‘God’ or ‘the Lord’ with ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’ in his head. It wasn’t: ‘Praised are you, the eternal one, our God, ruler of the cosmos.’ It was: “Praised are you, Casper the Friendly Ghost, ruler of the cartoons.’” 

He will be greatly missed by his numerous friends, family and loved ones.

They Said What? (August 2021)

I want to speak with you about the greatest threat to religious liberty in America today: the increasingly militant and extreme secular-progressive climate of our state-run education system. . . . Now we see the affirmative indoctrination of children with a secular belief system and worldview that is a substitute for religion and is antithetical to the beliefs and values of traditional God-centered religion.

Former Attorney General William Barr, speaking to the right-wing group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Raw Story, 5-26-21


If the left whines, like they do, like a spoiled brat often enough, they succeed in canceling so many voices of truth. And now that they are whining like, if I may say it, the pansy babies that they are, to cancel me. . . . God is still the best doctor and prayer is still the best medicine.

Rev. James Altman, pastor of St. James the Less Roman Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wis., after being asked by the La Crosse Diocese to step down because of several concerns, including Covid-19 vaccine misinformation.

NBC News, 5-24-21


Prayer is powerful. And I encourage all Utahns, regardless of religious affiliation, to join together on this weekend of prayer.

Gov. Spencer Cox, seeking divine intervention in a proclamation declaring a “weekend of prayer” to alleviate a statewide drought (which failed).

Salt Lake Tribune, 6-3-21


I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it is against my religion. . . . And it’s sinning against our God.

Byron Tanner Cross, who was suspended from his job as a gym teacher in Virginia because he refused to acknowledge transgendered individuals. Cross is now suing the school district.

The Friendly Atheist, 6-4-21


The Gestapo wants to see your papers, please.

Wisconsin state Rep. Shae Sortwell, comparing a nonprofit children’s museum in Stevens Point, Wis., to the Nazi Germany’s police force because the museum is asking people older than age 5 who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 to continue to wear masks during their visits to the indoor space.

Wisconsin Public Radio, 6-8-21


I don’t believe in evolution. I believe in God.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, speaking to Steve Bannon on  “Real America’s Voice,” where she argued that Dr. Anthony Fauci should be criminally charged over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Raw Story, 6-8-21


This is unusual for Wisconsin. Most people in Wisconsin say, ‘You are in our prayers; we are praying for you.’   . . . But you got some people here that are just sort of nasty at some points.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, after being booed by attendees at a Juneteenth Day event in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6-19-21


The idea that you can just push God out of every institution and be successful, I’m sorry, our Founding Fathers did not believe that.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, after signing into law a bill that requires schools to hold a one- to two-minute moment of silence at the start of each day in public schools.

FloridaPolitics.com, 6-14-21


I do think it is not a stretch to say, for all of us who’ve prayed for deliverance from Covid-19, the vaccines are an answer to that prayer. That is very much consistent with the way God often responds to our needs — by working through human capabilities that we’ve been given as a gift by the creator.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian.

Religion News Service, 6-1-5-21

Phil Zuckerman: There’s no reason to fear a secular nation

Phil Zuckerman
Secularization has increased because of things such as quality education and the ubiquity of the internet. (Image from Shutterstock)

This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April 2 and is reprinted with permission.

By Phil Zuckerman

The secularization of U.S. society — the waning of religious faith, practice and affiliation — is continuing at a dramatic and historically unprecedented pace. While many may consider such a development as cause for concern, such a worry is not warranted. This increasing godlessness in America is actually a good thing, to be welcomed and embraced.

Democratic societies that have experienced the greatest degrees of secularization are among the healthiest, wealthiest and safest in the world, enjoying relatively low rates of violent crime and high degrees of well-being and happiness. Clearly, a rapid loss of religion does not result in societal ruin.

For the first time since Gallup began tracking the numbers in 1937, Americans who are members of a church, synagogue or mosque are not in the majority, according to a Gallup report released this week. Compare today’s 47 percent to 1945, when more than 75 percent of Americans belonged to a religious congregation.

This decline in religious affiliation aligns closely with many similar secularizing trends. For example, in the early 1970s, only one in 20 Americans claimed “none” as their religion, but today it is closer to one in three. Over this same time period, weekly church attendance has decreased, and the percentage of Americans who never attend religious services has increased from 9 percent to 30 percent.

In 1976, nearly 40 percent of Americans said they believed that the bible was the actual word of God, to be taken literally. Today only about a quarter of Americans believe that, with slightly more decreeing the bible is simply a collection of fables, history and morality tales written by men. And the percentage of Americans who confidently believe in God’s existence, without a doubt, has declined from 63 percent in 1990 to 53 percent today.

Fears that this rise of irreligion might result in the deterioration of our nation’s moral fiber — and threaten our liberties and freedoms — are understandable. Such concerns are not without historical merit: The former Soviet Union was a communist country deeply rooted in atheism and was one of the most corrupt, bloody regimes of the 20th century. Other atheistic authoritarian regimes, such as the former Albania and Cambodia, were equally crooked and vicious.

But here’s the thing — they were all godless dictatorships that tried to forcibly destroy religion by persecuting the faithful, actively oppressing religious institutions, and making a demagogic cult out of their thuggish rulers. Such coercive secularization is, indeed, something to dread.

However, there is another, alternative kind of secularization, one that emerges organically, amid free and open societies where human rights, including religious freedom, are upheld and respected. Many societies qualify for this label — including those in Japan, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Australia, Canada and Uruguay, among many others. In these places, religion is not actively repressed, nor do governments promote secularization. And yet, it occurs simply because the people living in these societies lose interest in the whole religious enterprise.

Organic secularization can occur for many reasons. It happens when members of a society become better educated, more prosperous, and live safer, more secure and more peaceful lives; when societies experience increases in social isolation; when people have better healthcare; when more women hold paying jobs; when more people wait longer to get married and have kids. All of these, especially in combination, can decrease religiosity.

Another major factor is the ubiquity of the internet, which provides open windows to alternative worldviews and different cultures that can corrode religious conviction — and allows budding skeptics and nascent freethinkers to find, support and encourage one another.

In the United States, these factors are further compounded by strong backlashes against the Religious Right, the evangelical-Republican alliance, conservative religion’s anti-gay agenda and the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals. This has resulted in “the winds of secularization . . . swirling like never before,” Ryan P. Burge, a political scientist, recently said.

Fears of atheistic authoritarianism aside, some may worry about religious organizations fading away because they do so much good. They do engage in a tremendous amount of charitable work that includes holding food drives and setting up soup kitchens and homeless shelters. However, such welcome charity is ultimately an altruistic response to symptoms, not a structural cure for root causes.

This is why highly secular democracies do a much better job of ameliorating homelessness and poverty by employing decidedly secular solutions, such as responding with rational social policies and wise economic strategies, and setting up more responsive institutions. Affordable housing and subsidized healthcare do a far better job of alleviating the suffering of the poor and the sick than faith-based charities.

Secularity is highly correlated with a host of moral orientations that will markedly improve our nation. For instance, secular people — when compared to their religious peers — are far more likely to understand and respect the scientific method, which results in their increased willingness to get vaccinated, for instance, and adhere to empirically grounded health recommendations, a rational orientation that saves lives. Secular people are also more supportive of sex education, which reduces unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Research shows that secular people are more likely to support women’s reproductive rights, universal health care, gay rights, environmental protections, death with dignity, gun safety legislation and treating drug abuse as a medical rather than criminal problem — all of which will serve to increase dignity, liberty and well-being in America.

The organic secularization we are experiencing in the United States is a progressive force for good, one that is associated with improved human rights, more protections for planet Earth and an increased sociocultural propensity to make this life as fair and just as we can — in the here and now — rather than in a heavenly reward that fewer and fewer of us believe in.

Phil Zuckerman is associate dean of Pitzer College and author of Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. He will be speaking at FFRF’s convention in Boston in November.

FFRF Victories (August 2021)

By Stephanie Dyer

Large cross removed from Kentucky courthouse

The city of Elkton, Ky., has removed a large cross display from its courthouse after FFRF intervened.

Last year, FFRF was informed that the city had a large Latin cross overlaid with the design of the American flag on display in a window at the Old Todd County Courthouse.

FFRF Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson wrote to Mayor Arthur Green, informing him that it was inappropriate and unconstitutional for a government-owned building to include a religious display, and requesting that the cross be removed from the courthouse.

City attorney Jeffrey B. Traughber informed FFRF that this issue has been resolved. “The cross display was not sanctioned by the city and is no longer on display to the public,” Traughber wrote. 

Tenn. district removes baccalaureate item

Roane County School District in Kingston, Tenn., has apologized and taken action to remedy a recurring state/church violation in the district.

A member of the community contacted FFRF to report that Rockwood High School once again was promoting a baccalaureate service on the school calendar. FFRF had previously written to the district about this issue in 2018 and 2019 and had been assured that the inclusion of the baccalaureate service on the school calendar was a mistake and would not happen again.

In his letter to the director of schools, FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald reminded the district of these past issues and recommended that school staff receive further training on the Establishment Clause.

Director of Schools LaDonna McFall followed up with the school principal, who apologized and removed the event. She will also be meeting with school staff to clarify what can and cannot be put on the school calendar. McFall also said that she will “re-train principals regarding what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of separation of church and state before the 2021-2022 school year resumes.”

Louisiana school removes religious display

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana has removed a religious display after being reminded of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.

A concerned member of the community reached out to FFRF to report that Glen Oaks Park Magnet School displayed a religious plaque outside the principal’s office. The plaque reads: “Pray More, Worry Less.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the district’s superintendent and requested that the inappropriate and unconstitutional religious display be removed. “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools,” Line wrote, emphasizing public schools’ constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion.

In a phone call with a representative of the school system, FFRF was informed that the religious plaque has been removed. 

Commissioners stop prayers at meetings

The Franklin County (Wash.) Board of Commissioners in Pasco has stopped scheduling a time of prayer for its board meetings.

FFRF was informed that the Board of Commissioners recently began opening its meetings with prayer and were considering making this a permanent practice for the Board.

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the commissioners, urging them to reconsider the prayer practice, noting that “prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive.”

Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson responded to FFRF’s letter and reported that, after discussion and obtaining legal advice, the commissioners discontinued the time of prayer. “We recognize the separation of church and state that must prevail in public meetings,” Johnson wrote. 

Florida school district ceases religious club

A public school district in Florida has addressed concerns about a religious club operating in a local secondary school. 

A member of the community reported to FFRF that Milwee Middle School Pre-Engineering Magnet in Sanford has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club that is run by a local pastor.

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to the attorney for Seminole County Public Schools reminding them that schools cannot allow outside adults to “regularly participate, organize or lead” religious student organizations, and any teacher involvement cannot exceed a supervisory capacity.

The attorney for Seminole County Public Schools responded and informed FFRF that they spoke with the school principal and addressed our concerns. 

FFRF discovered that the school had also removed the FCA club’s listing on the school’s website.

Okla. coach told to remove preachy videos

An athletics coach for Arapaho-Butler Public Schools in Arapaho, Okla., was told to remove religious videos from social media that were filmed on school property without permission. 

A local community member contacted FFRF to report that Matt Oakes, a softball coach and teacher at Arapaho-Butler High School, was using his position to preach to students. Oakes helped found a sports-based ministry called “Crossing Home” that he used, along with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to promote his religious beliefs to students. Coach Oakes and other school staff have been seen proselytizing in videos posted on the Crossing Home’s Facebook and YouTube pages. These videos were filmed on the high school’s athletic field.

FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line wrote to Superintendent Jay Edlen, requesting that the district investigate this issue and take action to ensure school coaches and teachers are not using their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to students. 

Superintendent Edelen responded, informing FFRF that the videos seen on the Crossing Home’s social media accounts were done without the school’s knowledge, and the district requested that the videos be taken down. “It is the policy of Arapaho-Butler Public Schools that no teacher or coach should use their position to promote or endorse their religious beliefs on students,” Edelen wrote. 

Colorado school district ends church’s access

A Colorado school district has ended a church’s access to a local school.

A concerned Eagle County Schools community member had informed FFRF that Redeemer Eagle Valley, a Christian church that rents facilities from Brush Creek Elementary School, was advertising and distributing bibles to elementary school students. The church had a display up during school-sponsored summer school that included a Latin cross and which promoted bibles to students along with a sign reading “FREE BIBLES !!!”     

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Eagle County Schools Superintendent Philip Qualman: “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.” Nor may bibles be distributed to public school students. 

The school district responded to FFRF in a respectful manner.

“I’m grateful to know that organizations like FFRF exist, and can advocate on behalf of those who feel the separation of church and state is at risk,” the superintendent emailed back, after detailing the steps that Brush Creek Elementary has taken to make certain that the constitutional violations won’t recur. 

Staff instructed to stop promoting religion

The Lee County School District in Mississippi has taken action to ensure teachers won’t violate their students’ rights.

A district parent reported to FFRF that a kindergarten teacher at Saltillo Primary School in Tupelo was decorating her classroom with religious displays, including images of Bethlehem, a painting of Jesus in the manger with the three wise men and a wooden cross, and that she was frequently promoting her religious beliefs to students. The teacher had reportedly told students that she believed in Jesus and instructed them to complete religious assignments, like making a painting of Bethlehem that included “Jesus, mom, dad, and the three wise men.”

FFRF Legal Fellow Joseph McDonald wrote to the superintendent of Lee County Schools, alerting him to the constitutional violations occurring in the district. 

The superintendent informed FFRF that the school principal investigated the allegations and has communicated with school staff the importance of not using their position to promote their own personal religious or other beliefs. FFRF was also informed that the teacher in question had resigned, and the principal will continue to remind staff not to promote or endorse religion in the classroom.

New Jersey post office removes cross display

A cross display has been removed from a post office in Pine Brook, N.J. FFRF received a complaint from a member of the community that a Christian rosary was displayed on the wall of the post office. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote to the postmaster and reminded him that was a violation of the U.S. Constitution and post office regulations. She asked that the rosary be immediately removed from postal property. 

The district manager for the Northern New Jersey District and an attorney for the Postal Service’s Northeast – New York Law Office both responded to the letter and advised that the rosary, apparently a lost item from a customer, had been removed. 

Meet a Member: Pentecostal preacher became an atheist

Sam Whitehead
Sam Whitehead sits on his motorcycle at a corner in Winslow, Ariz., made famous in the Eagles song, “Take It Easy.”

Name: Sam Whitehead.

Where I live: Marietta, Ga.

Where and when I was born: A farmhouse in Grant, Ala., in 1950.

Family: My lovely wife Vicki, and Miles, a miniature schnauzer. No children, but I have two younger brothers and several nephews and nieces.

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s business degrees with emphasis on personnel management and finance from Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Occupation: Retired from a 44-year career with one of the largest petroleum transportation companies in the world. Mostly worked in human resources management and public affairs. 

How I got where I am today: Hard work and perseverance. I had to pay my own way through college and went from the mailroom to ever-increasing responsibilities during my career.

Where I’m headed: An enjoyable retirement with travel, playing music with my friends and spending time with friends and family.

Person in history I admire and why: Bob Dylan. He is the musical artist I wish I had been. As a teen in the 1960s, I aspired to be a singer/songwriter like the members of the Beatles.  My friends and I wrote songs and dreamt of fame and fortune.  It was in the 1970s that I became a Dylan fanatic. His body of work is astounding and I have seen him numerous times in concert.

A quotation I like: “This above all: To thine own self be true.” — William Shakespeare.

Things I like: Music, cars, motorcycles, dogs, “Gunsmoke.” 

Things I smite: Religious privilege, people who expect the government to take care of them. 

My doubts about religion started: As a child, but really took off at age 22, when I set out to prove to myself that God was real.

Before I die: I hope to see another Bob Dylan concert and that he invites me to the stage for a duet on “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  

Ways I promote freethought: I support my local Freethought Society and attend the meetings. I am also quick to point out, whenever the opportunity arises, that America is NOT a Christian nation. I also published a book (The Truth Shall Make You Free: How an All-American, Southern Boy and Preacher Became an Atheist) in 2020 about my 40-year quest of research and reflection to prove my faith was the one true religion and that God was real. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that there is no god and that no religion is true. 

I wish you’d have asked me: What is one of my favorite songs? “Let it Be” by the Beatles. “When I find myself in times of trouble . . .”

FFRF disappointed in Fulton decision

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow decision in favor of taxpayer-funded discrimination by a religious group, but is relieved that it isn’t worse.

In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision on June 17 ruled that the city infringed on a Catholic charity’s free exercise of religion. However, the court issued a narrow ruling that focused only on the contract language used by the city.

The city of Philadelphia stopped contracting with Catholic Social Services because it refused to work with same-sex couples for foster care screening services, in violation of the city’s anti-discrimination policy. The Catholic entity lost before both the district court and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, the increasingly activist Supreme Court took the case.

“Though this ruling was limited to the facts of this specific case, it still demonstrates an alarming trend among justices of the court in their willingness to expand privileges to Christians.” says FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert. “Under this ruling, Catholic Social Services is still eligible to participate in the foster care program certifications, and still allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples. We’re glad the decision wasn’t worse, but the LGBTQ community deserves better.”

The court had exhibited worrisome signs in  November during oral arguments that it could issue a sweeping decision in favor of the Catholic charity and its ability to discriminate against same-sex couples while participating in a government foster care program. Those arguments highlight that the decision could have been much more unwelcome.

“It is distressing that a unanimous Supreme Court would seemingly bless the Catholic group’s brazen demand to be funded with tax dollars to carry out invidious discrimination,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “However, it is a relief to see that this narrow decision is likely to have a limited impact.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by five other justices, found that the city’s contract could not survive constitutional review because it provided an option for “discretionary” exceptions to the city’s nondiscrimination rules. From a practical standpoint, the city may be able to change its contract so that it is clear that the nondiscrimination rules apply to all providers and that there aren’t individual exceptions.

Catholic Social Services had asked the Supreme Court to overturn Employment Division v. Smith, which provides that generally applicable laws do not violate the Free Exercise Clause if they have a rational basis. The group also claimed that the nondiscrimination rule violated its “free speech” rights. The high court refused to address these questions and said that it “need not” revisit the Smith decision in this case.

“Catholic Social Services seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,” the decision concludes. “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.”

The court’s judgment has a perplexing logic, FFRF emphasizes.

“The Supreme Court’s narrow decision may allow nondiscrimination provisions to stand if governments do not provide for individual exceptions,” says FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott. “The city of Philadelphia may have a simple fix to this issue by deleting the exception language from its contracts.”

FFRF filed an amicus brief in the case (with Elliott as the counsel of record) opposing the contention of Catholic Social Services that it can discriminate as a government contractor. “If CSS is permitted to discriminate in this case, the rights of religious minorities and the nonreligious would be put in peril,” FFRF observed in its brief.