FFRF lawsuit gets Puerto Rico to stop school prayer

A lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded Puerto Rico’s education secretary and a proselytizing school principal there to halt unconstitutional school prayer.

FFRF had filed a federal court challenge in March against Secretary of Education Eligio Hernandez Perez and Principal Luz Ramos on behalf of a family subjected to forced prayers and bullying in a public primary school. Since September 2019, in direct contradiction of well-established constitutional law, officials at the Luis M. Santiago School, a public school in Toa Baja, had organized, led and coerced students to participate in mandatory 50-minute Christian prayer sessions on school property every other Monday during the school day. The prayers were broadcast over a microphone and speakers.

FFRF represented two of these children and their mother before the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, along with Humanistas Seculares De Puerto Rico, a leading Puerto Rican secular humanist organization that the mother belongs to. As a secular humanist, she “does not engage in prayer or believe in the power of prayer or . . . want to force any religious ideology” on her children, the legal complaint noted. When she objected to the religious practice, she was told if she removed her children from the prayer, they would be marked for cutting class, which could lower their grade point average. One child was told by a classmate, after a teacher outed the family as nonreligious, that “If you don’t believe in God, like your mother, you will go to hell.”

The plaintiffs sought an injunction prohibiting the defendants from continuing to schedule and host school prayer, as well as a declaration that the defendants’ conduct violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the free exercise rights of the individual plaintiffs.

As far back as 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that “the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people,” FFRF had pointed out.

At a mediation session held on March 9, the defendants said they would immediately and permanently prohibit school-led prayers at Luis M. Santiago School and would undertake all reasonable efforts to ensure an academic school environment free from harassment of the students and their parents. They also consented to remove negative academic marks related to the plaintiff students’ nonparticipation in the prayer sessions.

And importantly, they indicated they would circulate a memorandum on the policy of nondiscrimination and nonsectarian education in public schools to Department of Education employees and conduct a training for all employees of the school regarding their constitutional obligations.

The plaintiffs and FFRF agreed that these actions would resolve the issues raised in their complaint and that upon completion of these actions by the defendants, the lawsuit would be dismissed. On Aug. 7, the court-appointed mediator declared that the mediation process had been completed to the satisfaction of all the parties involved.

This was FFRF’s first court challenge in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. FFRF thanks the brave family for coming forward to fight for freedom of conscience, Secular Humanists of Puerto Rico for its invaluable assistance and Attorney Cintron Garcia for representing the plaintiffs throughout the litigation and mediation process. Toa Baja is a suburb of San Juan with about 89,000 people.

The family brought this action under pseudonyms to protect the mother and her two minor children from social ostracism, retaliation and even physical harm. FFRF Attorneys Samuel Grover and Madeline Ziegler represented the Freedom From Religion Foundation, while local counsel Carlos A. Cintron Garcia represented Humanistas Seculares De Puerto Rico and the plaintiff family.

FFRF to challenge religious voter test

The late Roy Torcaso, an FFRF honorary director, won a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 1961 affirming the government may not impose a religious test.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation plans to file a federal lawsuit by October to challenge a religious test to register to vote that is unique to the state of Alabama. Alabama is the only state in the country requiring voters to register on a form that mandates that they swear “so help me God.”

In all other states, voters are provided a completely secular registration form or are not required to submit an oath or affirmation at all. FFRF expects to file on behalf of at least one Alabama resident and possibly others who have encountered this religious test when trying to register to vote. The defendant will be Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill.

The primary complainant, an atheist, has sought to register to vote in Alabama since November 2019, using a mail-in form downloaded from the secretary of state’s website. The bottom of the voter declaration section warns, “Read and sign under penalty of perjury,” and adds: “If you falsely sign this statement, you can be convicted and imprisoned for up to five years.” Voters submitting this registration form in Alabama must sign the voter declaration, beginning “I solemnly swear or affirm,” and concluding with “so help me God.”

The complainant contacted the secretary of state’s office to ask about the process to register to vote without swearing an oath reading, “so help me God.” The following day, the director of elections at that office informed the complainant that there was no legal mechanism for him to register to vote: “If you cross out a portion, the board of registrars in your county will reject the application and ask you to re-submit.”

The secretary of state maintains that the registration forms are “prescribed by statute” and “that any changes would require legislative action.” FFRF’s lawsuit will point out that the secretary of state has the authority to create and amend voter registration forms.

Government officials routinely allow attorneys, jurors, witnesses and many others who must take an oath to make a secular affirmation instead when they are unable to swear “so help me God” as a matter of conscience.

FFRF Attorney Chris Line previously sent a letter to the secretary of state, noting that any requirement for religious oaths violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which bars religious tests. In Torcaso v. Watkins, the Supreme Court held that neither a state nor the federal government may force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. “The prohibition on mandatory religious oaths is a well-settled issue,” Line added.

“The secretary of state has willfully excluded nontheist citizens from registering to vote,” says FFRF Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Elliott, “and is coercing a statement of belief in a monotheistic god by requiring nontheists to swear a religious oath.”

Vote like your rights depend on it . . .

. . . because they do!

More than 98 percent of FFRF members are registered voters (see Page 3), something FFRF is very proud of! Nevertheless, in this unprecedented election year in the midst of a pandemic, FFRF urges you to make a voting plan.

Three-quarters of the nation can vote by mail. (Exceptions: As of press-time, if you live in New York, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas, an excuse is required for absentee voting.)

Since there is great concern over delivery by the U.S. Postal Service, be sure to request your mail-in ballot now, if you have not done so. (If you live in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Jersey. Vermont,Hawaii and D.C., registered voters should automatically receive a ballot by mail.)

Fill out and return your mail-in ballot at the earliest time permitted (and at least eight days before Nov. 3, to be sure your ball

Atheists vote

ot is received in time). Or hand-deliver it to an early polling site if permitted in your area. If you can’t vote by mail, or can’t vote early in your location, please put on that mask and vote in person on Nov. 3.

P.S. Encourage healthy young colleagues or family members to consider being a poll worker as there is a shortage this year due to COVID-19 concerns. It’s paid, may include bonus pay, takes an hour of training and will help ensure all votes count.

Check out rockthevote.org/how-to-vote/ for info on voting in your state and area.

FFRF special report — Secret White House calls helped funnel taxpayer money to preachers, churches

The Freedom From Religion Foundation released evidence on July 15 of how the Trump administration secretly turned the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) into a bonanza of tax-paid handouts for churches and religious leaders.

FFRF has provided audio documentation, via a recording it made, of clandestine calls the White House set up with Trump-allied preachers and church leaders specifically to funnel taxpayer money to churches through the PPP. This giveaway to churches is the first time in U.S. history that tax funds have been directly used to pay the salaries of ministers and religious staff for religious purposes. Religious organizations received at least $7.3 billion in forgivable loans, with megachurches and thousands of Catholic dioceses amassing millions.

President Trump’s offering of public funds to religious ministers breaks with 250 years of constitutional precedent. As the Framers of the secular U.S. Constitution understood and discussed at length, religious liberty requires that citizens be free to decide which church to personally support, or to support none at all. Until very recently, even the fiercest opponents of the separation between state and church admitted that forcing taxpayers to pay the salaries of clergy was flagrantly unconstitutional.

The audio of two calls between religious leaders and the White House (which FFRF recorded) confirms that the White House secretly worked to give church leaders special access to PPP, ensuring they could receive top dollars from U.S. taxpayers.

The first such conference call took place on April 3, just as the PPP went into gear and a full two weeks before the Small Business Administration published its final rules on church eligibility — for the first time — for SBA funds. This secret announcement to clergy reveals that the SBA had no intention of listening to public comments on the proposed rule, and had already decided to extend these loans to churches, in spite of the Constitution and any public outcry. At the time of this call, SBA had only awarded about 10,000 of the 661,218 PPP loans.

Trump-allied faith leaders were assured by the federal government that even a discriminatory fly-by-night “church” that provides absolutely no secular social services, and of which the owner is the sole employee, could have its wages covered by taxpayers during the PPP time period.

The second call, 100 minutes on June 22, was even more explicit, with churches urged to apply for PPP funds before the June 30 deadline. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council, explained that the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, which took between $350,000–$1 million, “has literally been kept solvent . . . by the Paycheck Protection Plan (sic).” Dobson explained that in 43 years of leading two faith-based ministries, he has “never asked for, nor received, one cent from the federal government,” expressing his surprise that taxpayer funds could now flow to his ministry.

At that meeting, evangelist Paula White, a White House employee, touted the Trump administration’s blending of state and church, such as inserting “faith directors” into every executive agency and securing grants for religious purposes. She praised Trump for “put[ting] ‘merry’ back in Christmas.”

The calls came in addition to regular White House conference calls specifically hosted for church leaders regarding the pandemic. Trump and Vice President Pence personally participated in at least one such call, which was described as “more like a time for Trump’s faith surrogates to praise Trump rather than to truly reach out to faith communities.”

Under the PPP, which is administered by the Small Business Association, companies with fewer than 500 employees can receive taxpayer-financed loans that don’t need to be repaid so long as they are primarily spent on employee wages. In May, FFRF sounded the alarm that the shocking change in SBA’s rules allowing churches and other faith-based organizations to receive funding meant taxpayers would be forced to pay the salaries of ministers — a flagrant violation of the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Trump and SBA, not the CARES Act passed by Congress, allocated these billions to churches. Although the CARES Act extended eligibility for loans from the SBA to nonprofits, which was new, the law does not give the SBA the power to extend this eligibility to houses of worship, nor could it. The Constitution prohibits government funding of religion.

Below are summaries and documentation of what took place during two of the White House’s conference calls with religious leaders:

The first call

On April 3, two SBA representatives joined the surgeon general, White House officials and more than 500 church-related participants to explain that the SBA would release guidelines on PPP loans specific to churches. (The call was led by Jenny Korn, deputy assistant to the president in the Office of Public Liaison.)

Paula White was introduced with her official White House title (“adviser to the White House Faith and Opportunities Initiative”) and began the call with a prayer asking people to “turn from their wicked ways” and convert to her brand of Christianity. The call also concluded with a sectarian Christian prayer, delivered by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus.

Before sharing reasonable information regarding the pandemic, Surgeon General Jerome Adams discussed his personal religious beliefs (“As was mentioned, I am a Christian”) and explained that prayers are part of the government’s response to the pandemic: “We’re here trying to empower and equip health care professionals, hospitals, public health departments, and especially faith leaders, to do what works to keep our citizens safe from harm. . . . By working together and by supporting our neighbors and each other, and through prayer, we will get through this.”

Deputy Assistant to the President Jenny Lichter reassured the clergy that there would be virtually no limits for churches qualifying for PPP funds. She emphasized that taxpayer funds would be available even to churches that did nothing other than proselytize:

“Faith-based organizations are eligible regardless of whether they provide secular social services.”

Lichter then assured faith leaders that they would still be able to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else: “A faith-based organization that receives a loan will retain its independence, its autonomy, its right of expression, its religious character, its authority over its internal governance, and no faith-based organization will be excluded from receiving funding because of any limitations it might place on leadership, membership, or employment based on shared religious faith or practice.”

The June call

Paula White, this time introduced as Trump’s “spiritual adviser,” led a similar sectarian prayer to start the call. The prayer vilified non-Christians, contrasting “evil men” with those who are “attentive to godly counsel.”

Following the prayer, White discussed the White House’s role in the PPP program, confirming that she was on the call as a government representative, not as a private citizen. Two panelists then spoke about receiving PPP funds: Evangelical preacher Jentezen Franklin and Dobson, as reported above.

White appears to explicitly thank SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza for funneling PPP money to “so many houses of worship and faith,” something that was not envisioned in the CARES Act itself.

This boondoggle, this swamp filled with fetid holy water, this 10-figure transfer of wealth from the American taxpayer to churches, was thanks to the SBA, not Congress. Trump rewarded his most fervent supporters with billions of taxpayer dollars in clear violation of the Constitution.

Religion helps push pandemic

Religion has a lot to answer for when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

There are many political and sociological reasons why the United States is leading the world in coronavirus deaths and new cases, but the finger must also be pointed at religion and the role it is playing in making the pandemic even more deadly. Deference to religion by federal, state and local public officials is literally killing Americans. As professor Juan Cole has put it, “In the U.S. and abroad, leaders are putting faith before good science.”

That bad faith in religion is exemplified in two ways. One is the favoritism religion expects and often gets, such as the exemption of church gatherings from safety mandates. The other, more insidious, is religion’s role in spreading another dangerous “virus”: science denial. As the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s bumper sticker puts it, religion is the original “alternative fact.” Religion sets the stage for denial of science by rewarding belief without evidence or even against the facts.

As countless studies and news articles have shown, church services are a hotbed for coronavirus infection, due to difficulty in social distancing, by the singing and chanting and extended indoor contact. Yet President Trump has used his authority to often deprecate scientific advice — and to pander to his religious base. In late May, he called churches “essential” operations — telling every governor to open up “essential places of faith . . . right now for this weekend” or he would override them. When he added, “In America, we need more prayer, not less,” he further signaled his devaluation of the role of science.

The Justice Department has thrown its support behind churches that have sought exemption from stay-at-home orders. Religion-based pressure was put on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, partly accounting for its less-than-stellar advice, delaying a guidebook on safety measures and tampering with CDC’s guidelines for churches.

Trump has muzzled the voice of reason that is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who, by the way, is not a “man of faith” but a humanist. Notes Fauci: “One of the problems we face in the United States is that unfortunately, there is a combination of an anti-science bias that people are — for reasons that sometimes are, you know, inconceivable and not understandable — they just don’t believe science and they don’t believe authority. . . . Science is truth.”

A number of evangelical governors likewise refused to issue stay-at-home orders until it was too late, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Even after seeing the light, both have given dispensations to religious gatherings from safety mandates. DeSantis, in a state with growing cases, still refuses to order mask-wearing in public. Church-going Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp even tried to sue Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her responsible actions, such as a city requirement to wear masks.

Many governmental officials either blinded by faith or seeking to propitiate the Religious Right, have perpetuated attacks on the scientific method and scientific knowledge. Polls are showing that, thanks to irrational anti-science views, only half to two-thirds of Americans say they would even get the vaccine once it is developed. This anti-science attitude has encouraged QAnon, the fringe conspiracy theorists who are spreading dangerous misinformation.

The base that many public officials are pandering to includes umpteen churches and worshippers who’ve filed lawsuits clogging the courts demanding to be considered above the law and to be exempted from stay-at-home and, now, masking orders. Behind many of these lawsuits are Christian Nationalist outfits, working to destroy the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Church officials who ignore stay-at-home orders (and the biblical admonitions to “Love thy neighbor” and “do unto others”) and public officials who politicize or flout medical science are enabling the coronavirus curve to keep rising. The religion-inspired anti-science backlash is increasing infections and deaths, sowing ignorance about the potential of a future vaccine and jeopardizing the economic and educational recovery of our nation.

Billboard urges ‘social distancing between church and state’

This FFRF billboard has been placed in Denver, thanks to FFRF Member Monty C. Cleworth and FFRF’s Denver chapter.

A new Denver public message couldn’t be more timely: “Practice social distancing between church and state.”

The dictum on a backlit 10-foot-by-23-foot billboard situated on Broadway south of 10th Avenue is brought to city residents by FFRF, thanks to a local donor and FFRF’s Denver chapter.

“Practicing distancing is extremely important these days,” notes FFRF benefactor Monty C. Cleworth. “Not just distancing for COVID reasons, but also distancing between church and state. We wouldn’t want to transmit anything that is unhealthy and dangerous.”

Adds Claudette StPierre, Denver chapter president, “We social distance to prevent the spread of infectious agents like COVID-19. Distancing between state and church is just as important to prevent the spread of religious dogma and doctrine into our government.”

Among local state/church issues is the taxpayer bailout money received by Denver-area churches.

The Catholic Church received up to $3.4 billion of the pandemic relief Paycheck Protection Program, with reports that the Denver Archdiocese’s share was at least $1.9 million.

Sign up for FFRF’s online membership meeting on Nov. 14!

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be offering our first-ever online membership meeting, including legal and other highlights of the year, on Saturday, Nov. 14. The event will include some special greetings and surprises. While the meeting is only online, for the first time the gathering is available to all members, no matter where you live!

We can already reveal that legendary TV actor Ed Asner will appear during the event in a video accepting FFRF’s 2020 Clarence Darrow Award. Asner, who just joined FFRF’s Honorary Board (see page 8), is an Emmy Award-winning actor. Asner toured the country portraying William Jennings Bryan in a play about the Scopes trial and has been an outspoken progressive activist. The award includes a bronze statuette, a miniature of the 7-foot statue by renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis that FFRF erected on the lawn of the “Scopes Trial” courthouse in Dayton, Tenn.

Our team of “watchdog” attorneys will present legal highlights at the online meeting, and FFRF’s many other actions and achievements over the year will be featured in the hour-long report preceding the short membership meeting.

Please be sure to register online no later than Monday, Nov. 2, or to mail your free registration so it is received by our office (FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701) no later than Monday, Nov. 2. See registration form below or register online at: ffrf.org/2020-meeting.

The “FFRF Highlights of the Year” will begin online at 1:30 p.m. CST on Nov. 14, followed by a short membership meeting, which includes the annual treasurer’s report and an election for the State Representatives. The agenda and other info will be published in your fall Private Line, FFRF’s biannual newsletter.

State Reps, who will be voting on a bylaws change and Executive Board elections, will have their annual meeting online on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 1:30 p.m. CST.

Look for additional details in the upcoming fall Private Line, the October Freethought Today and email reminders. (Members who have not shared their email address with FFRF are encouraged to do so. Send your preferred email address to [email protected] and include your full name and mailing address.)

Any FFRF member in good standing (meaning your dues are up to date) is invited to attend the annual membership meeting. Participants will be emailed the agenda and written reports along with instructions to access the meeting and to vote. All registrants of the membership meeting will receive an email with a link to the online ballot to elect the state representatives. You must attend the meeting for your vote to count.

As previously reported, FFRF’s 2020 convention slated for the weekend of Nov. 13-14, 2020, in San Antonio, had to be postponed due to the coronavirus. Almost all scheduled speakers, including Gloria Steinem and Margaret Atwood, have agreed to appear at FFRF’s 2021 convention at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel on the weekend of Nov. 19-21, 2021.

Supreme Court neo-voucher ruling blasted by FFRF

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down an alarming decision June 30 on school voucher programs that imperils true religious liberty, asserts the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“The ruling eviscerates a founding principle of our secular republic — that citizens must not be taxed to support religion, including religious schools,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She adds that the ruling would appear to severely undercut specific safeguards in state constitutions prohibiting the union of state and church.

In Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court, which held that a neo-voucher school funding scheme violates the “No Aid” to religion clause of the state Constitution. The state court struck down the entire neo-voucher scheme as it applied to all private education, religious and secular. Nearly 90 percent of Montana’s private schools are affiliated with religion. Christian parents, represented by the pro-voucher Institute of Justice, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to declare that No Aid clauses violate the federal Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In The New York Times, reporter Adam Liptak wrote: “Montana’s Constitution, like those of many other states, restricts government aid to religious groups. Those provisions, often called Blaine amendments, were initially adopted in the 19th century and often had the goal of restricting funding for Catholic schools. Of the 37 states with Blaine amendments, 14 have strict prohibitions on the participation of religious schools in state programs.”

But, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, illogically ruled that religious schools were indeed being singled out.

“A state need not subsidize private education,” the majority judgment states. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The absurdity of the majority decision is laid bare in a dissenting opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, points out that the Montana Supreme Court had made no distinction between religious and nonreligious schools in a previous ruling.

“Because Montana’s Supreme Court did not make such a decision — its judgment put all private school parents in the same boat — this court had no occasion to address the matter,” the dissent states. It adds: “The state court struck the program in full. In doing so, the court never made religious schools ineligible for an otherwise available benefit, and it never decided that the Free Exercise Clause would allow that outcome.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has a stinging dissent of her own.

“Today’s ruling is perverse,” she writes. “Without any need or power to do so, the court appears to require a state to reinstate a tax-credit program that the Constitution did not demand in the first place. [The court] rejects the Religion Clauses’ balanced values in favor of a new theory of free exercise, and it does so only by setting aside well-established judicial constraints.”

FFRF had filed an 18-page friend-of-the-court brief in November cogently arguing that true religious liberty would be endangered if the court strikes down the provision of Montana’s Constitution that prohibits funding religious education.

“Religious liberty is imperiled in this case,” its brief asserted. “This case is not about discrimination [against religion]; it is about government-compelled support of religion. Every Montana citizen has the right not to be taxed to fund religion. If this court abandons this basic principle, we will have reached a disastrous moment in American history: the era of government-compelled tithing.”

Also in her dissent, Sotomayor added that the decision by the court “weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”

FFRF agrees with Sotomayor, as this misguided decision deals a great blow to the separation of state and church, as well as the sovereignty of states to govern according to the will of their citizens. It virtually guarantees that citizens of the more than 30 states whose constitutions included No Aid to religion clauses may be taxed in order to support religious schools at some point in the near future, regardless of their own views on religion or which religious denomination they may belong to. The 26 percent of nonreligious taxpayers will be injured the most.

James Madison, later the architect of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, famously defeated a Virginia proposal in 1785 to pay the salary of Christian teachers, calling even a three-penny tax on citizens supremely immoral. The No Aid language in many state constitutions dates to the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty of 1786, written by Thomas Jefferson, who deemed it “sinful and tyrannical” to tax citizens to support ministries or religious schools.

The Supreme Court’s decision does not address whether some restrictions placed on funds going to religious schools would pass constitutional muster. States may still be able to restrict funding on the basis of “religious use.” For example, a restriction on direct funding of religious education classes may be permissible.

An ironic additional consequence of such a ruling may be to bring down regulation on churches and religious schools due to the flow of public money into religious schools. In short, the judgment in favor of the plaintiffs will negatively and fundamentally alter the state-church relationship in place since the nation’s founding.

FFRF decries the high court’s blow to our secular public school system in order to fund religious institutions.

Abortion rights upheld by court

FFRF applauds the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down an unconstitutional Louisiana provision that would have effectively outlawed abortion in the state.

In a 5-4 decision in June Medical Services v. Russo issued June 29, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s more liberal justices to overturn an onerous Louisiana law (Act 620) intended to shut down clinics. The law, part of a series of anti-abortion legal attacks known as TRAP (targeted restrictions on abortion providers) laws, required physicians who provide abortions to unnecessarily hold “active admitting privileges” at a hospital located within 30 miles of the clinic. The law was virtually identical to a Texas provision quashed by the high court only four years ago in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the court had decided the restriction constituted a medically “undue burden” on abortion access.

After continuing to enforce this law in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health, the state was counting on a change in the composition of the court yielding an overturning of settled law.

“Thankfully, the court today did not bend to the political whims of the Religious Right and honored its own precedent to preserve reproductive freedom,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s opinion, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reads:

“Given the facts found, we must also uphold the district court’s related factual and legal determinations. These include its determination that Louisiana’s law poses a ‘substantial obstacle’ to women seeking an abortion; its determination that the law offers no significant health-related benefits; and its determination that the law consequently imposes an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion. We also agree with its ultimate legal conclusion that, in light of these findings and our precedents, Act 620 violates the Constitution.”

While Roberts’ concurrence officially made him the deciding swing vote striking down this unconstitutional law, his reasoning signals a troubling future for the landscape of abortion rights in states across the country. He writes: “I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today, however, is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.”

This opinion, along with the dissents of Justices Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito (with Neil Gorsuch joining) and Clarence Thomas, acts as a chilling reminder that while today’s victory is cause for celebration, there remains a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that wants to restrict access to legal abortion.

FFRF joined 71 other groups in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, which argued that the court must take into account the economic and social circumstances of the women who will suffer the negative consequences of denial of abortion access.

While U.S. women’s reproductive rights dodged a bullet with this ruling, there is no question that the religiously motivated “antis” will continue their legal war to overturn Roe v. Wade, as demonstrated by the fact that eight states passed laws to ban the procedure in 2019 alone.

The legal battles over abortion are far from over.

2020 convention canceled: FFRF sets sights on 2021 Boston gathering

Gloria Steinem
Margaret Atwood

Gloria Steinem, Margaret Atwood, others from 2020 have agreed to speak at next year’s event

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and related safety concerns, FFRF’s 2020 national convention scheduled for San Antonio in November has been canceled.

FFRF’s annual meetings of the membership and state representatives will take place online.

We plan to hold a fabulous post-pandemic celebration — including the lineup advertised for this year — at the Boston Plaza Hotel over the weekend of Nov. 19-21, 2021.

We are pleased to confirm that headliners Gloria Steinem and Margaret Atwood are expected to speak at the 2021 convention.

Also, others who had planned to speak in 2020 have let us know they will be joining the convention in 2021, including author and journalist Katherine Stewart, secular studies professor Phil Zuckerman, and author and advocate Megan Phelps-Roper.  We will be updating information on next year’s gathering, although it’s still too early to register.

If you reserved a room at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio using the FFRF room bloc, your reservation has been automatically canceled. You should receive a notification from the hotel. (If you reserved a room through other means, on dates not included in the room block or at another area hotel, please be sure to double-check or cancel directly.)

All registration fees have been refunded by FFRF. Thanks to the many members who donated it as a gift!

We are now working on the challenges of conducting our first online annual membership meeting this fall, followed by an online state representatives meeting. The membership meeting will include some fun items, highlights of the year and legal accomplishments.

Private Line, our twice-a-year newsletter, will be mailed in the fall with full details on how to register for the online annual membership meeting. We look forward to “meeting” with you later this year.

We appreciate your patience. Stay tuned for details! Stay safe, and we’ll see you Nov. 19-21 next year at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.