2021 BIPOC student essay contest winners

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 13 top winners and 11 honorable mentions of the 2021 David Hudak Memorial Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color Student Essay Competition.

FFRF has paid out a total of $22,900 in award money for this contest this year.

BIPOC students were asked to write a personal persuasive essay about “What I would tell my family or friends about my atheism or nonbelief.” 

“The quality of the essays this year was one of the best in memory and, because of that, deciding the winners was extremely difficult,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It was a pleasure reading these.” 

Winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below.

FIRST PLACE

Galilea Baca, 18, Collin Community

College, $3,500.

SECOND PLACE

Shreyas Karki, 21, Rice University,

$3,000.

THIRD PLACE (tie)

Everett Viego, 20, University of Texas,

$2,500.

Fadima Tall, 20, Rollins College,

$2,500.

FOURTH PLACE (tie)

Tylinn Wilson, 19, Wichita State 

University, $2,000.

Philip Haynie, 18, Hampton 

University, $2,000.

FIFTH PLACE

Davina Boison, 19, University of 

North Carolina, $1,500.

SIXTH PLACE

Alina Sokolova, 19, Concordia 

College, $1,000.

SEVENTH PLACE (tie)

Jade Garza, 18, University of 

Texas – San Antonio, $750.

Sumaiyah Khan, 19, Stony Brook 

University, $750.

EIGHTH PLACE

Scarly Michelle Benitez-Carbajal, 19 New York University, $500.

NINTH PLACE

Luca Ng, 20, Iowa State University, 

$400.

TENTH PLACE

Anqi Qu, 20, University of Chicago,

$300.

HONORABLE MENTIONS ($200 each)

Caitlin Guidry, 19, Houston 

Community College.

Angie Hayes, 18, University of 

Nevada-Las Vegas.

Grecia Hingst, 22, Loyola University

New Orleans.

Ashby Maliackal, 18, University of 

Houston.

Daphne Moon, 18, Art Institute of 

Chicago.

Christopher Nava, 19, University of

California-Irvine.

Suly Ramirez, 20, University of 

Texas.

Aerahan Skanthakumar, 18, 

University of Illinois.

Cole Songster, 19, Knox College.

Joanna Tapia, 21, Bradley University.

Nadiyah Williams, 19, Georgia 

Institute of Technology.

FFRF also thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of this and FFRF’s other student essays competitions. And we also would like to thank our “faithful faithless” volunteer and staff readers and judges, including: Don Ardell, Dan Barker, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Sammi Lawrence, Katya Maes, Gloria Marquardt, Amit Pal, Dave Petrashek, Sue Schuetz, PJ Slinger, Mandisa Thomas, David Tomayo, Karen Lee Weidig, Jenny Wilson and Casandra Zimmerman.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010, one geared explicitly for students of color since 2016 and a fifth contest for law students since 2019.

FFRF vouches for Maine’s school funding program

In a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court, FFRF has delivered an amicus brief siding with the state of Maine on its refusal to use taxpayer money to fund religious education and proselytization through the state’s school funding program.

A year ago, the case of Carson v. Makin case was decided in favor of Maine by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. That ruling has been appealed and now heads to the Supreme Court.

FFRF’s brief states: “This court should not undo the Maine Legislature’s decision not to subsidize sectarian education. Neither the parents seeking public money, nor the religious schools, have a right to taxpayer funds, directly or indirectly. The state’s decision is the only path consistent with fundamental principles of religious liberty.”

In its decision on Oct. 29, 2020, the 1st Circuit concluded that even in light of precedent established in the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions in Trinity Lutheran and Espinoza, the plaintiffs in Carson v. Makin could not successfully challenge Maine’s requirement that its tuition assistance program fund only “nonsectarian” education. Simply put, the decision stated that the “nonsectarian” requirement did not exclude religious schools based on their religious status, but rather protected the state’s interest in only supporting education that was itself nonreligious. Thus, schools are excluded from Maine’s program not based upon what they are or what they believe, but solely based on what they propose to do with the state’s money.

If the Supreme Court would reverse the circuit court’s ruling, FFRF writes, “Minority religious and nonreligious citizens would be immediately coerced into subsidizing religious education with which they fundamentally disagree. . . . If they begin receiving state funding, religious schools will likely be subjected to the state regulation that must necessarily follow — although they may well fight in court for the special privilege of receiving state funding without the concomitant oversight, in which case it will be the students who suffer most.”

Back in November 2019, FFRF had filed a similar amicus brief arguing that Maine’s existing distinction between religious and secular private schools protects religious liberty by ensuring that Maine taxpayers are not compelled to support a religion that is not their own.

“The constitutional prohibition on states taxing citizens for the benefit of religion, directly or indirectly, guarantees religious liberty for all,” the brief stated. 

The 1st Circuit agreed with FFRF.

“Maine’s Constitution instructs the state’s Legislature to ensure that its local institutions have the means to provide the benefits of a free public education to their children,” the circuit court’s decision stated.

Despite the long-established, foundational nature of this constitutional principle, the Supreme Court has telegraphed its intentions to undermine it. 

FFRF will be closely monitoring the Carson v. Makin case as it heads to oral argument later this year.

FFRF to Supreme Court: Get rid of death penalty

Abolish capital punishment, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its allies are asking the U.S. Supreme Court.

FFRF’s friend-of-the-court brief on Sept. 27 in the Ramirez v. Collier case (which deals with religious access) argues that the death penalty is unjustified in a secular nation such as the United States, since it stems in part from biblical roots, and is unconstitutional under the First and Eighth Amendments.

Ramirez v. Collier has been in the news recently because of the Supreme Court’s seeming willingness to make a religious allowance for the death-row inmate.

The Supreme Court agreed to postpone the execution of John Ramirez, who was scheduled to die on Wednesday [Sept. 8] in Texas,” reports SCOTUSblog. “The last-minute respite will allow the justices to fully consider Ramirez’s request that his pastor be allowed to physically touch Ramirez and audibly pray in the execution chamber while Ramirez is put to death.”

FFRF’s brief asserts that the issue before the court is Kafkaesque because the law is quibbling over Ramirez’s constitutional rights moments before it takes them away forever. Also, if there is going to be an execution, FFRF maintains, any rule the court hands down should apply to the nonreligious.

The brief makes a number of cogently argued points.

First, it contends, the Supreme Court should hold that capital punishment is unconstitutional, since the current application of the death penalty as a punishment in America is fraught with peril — from its unreliability to its arbitrariness to its cruelty. And of all the ways a state could impermissibly interfere with someone’s free exercise of religion, killing them is certainly the worst way. 

Second, FFRF asserts that the biblically based death penalty should be rejected once and for all. While the root of capital punishment may not be solely biblical, in the Western world the bible’s primitive “eye for an eye, life for a life” injunctions in both the Hebrew and New Testament bibles have been a major sourcebook for the death penalty. The Christian church, in particular, “has played a significant role in validating the state’s use of capital punishment,” as scholar Davison M. Douglas points out. 

Third, FFRF’s brief posits that if executions are allowed to take place, end-of-life accommodations must be equally available. A long string of unbroken precedent holds that neither may the government officially favor one religion over another nor may it favor religion over nonreligion. If the court chooses to allow state-sponsored killings to continue, it must ensure that end-of-life accommodations are made equally available to those of all religions and those with no religion at all.

FFRF’s interest in this case arises from its position that capital punishment is an unconstitutional, inhumane imposition of a religiously based punishment. In modern times, freethinkers have been the first to speak out for the abolition of the death penalty. The overwhelming majority of FFRF’s membership opposes the death penalty, according to its 2020 survey.

FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert and FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne drafted the amicus brief for the organization. The American Humanist Association and American Atheists are the other groups that have joined in FFRF’s brief.

Member paints images featured in FFRF’s 2022 wall calendar

Jacques Le Fresne
2022 FFRF calendar cover

FFRF Member Jacques Le Fresne, whose beautiful watercolors are fea-tured in FFRF’s new 2022 wall calendar, is still painting one or two landscape watercolors a week.

Born in Fougeres, France, in 1930, Le Fresne worked in leather goods until moving at age 31 to New York City. There he went to school to become a hairdresser and “worked in one of the best beauty shops” in New York. “I had never used a phone before moving to New York City. Can you imagine?” Le Fresne marvels.

He lived in New York City until his only child, a daughter in her 30s, tragically was killed by a drunk driver who ran a stop sign in 1989. Always a doubter, that tragedy cemented his lack of belief in a deity. “She spoke four languages, was a Black Belt in karate and had everything going for her.”

He and his mother moved to St. Croix, where he opened up his own hair salon, serving both men and women. His mother worked until she was 89, and died in 1994. He eventually moved to North Carolina, then settled in Ocala, Fla., in 2001.

Le Fresne first took up painting in his retirement. Loving music, he also studied guitar and plays Flamenco music. He has used oil in some paintings, but found it messy and full of fumes, so now works entirely in watercolor. A typical painting takes him a day.

Le Fresne says he is “always busy,” playing music, painting and walking every morning.

He found out about FFRF through his late friend Irene Stephenson, a former Life Member who founded a method of personality analysis called “biorhythm.” 

Le Fresne became a U.S. citizen about five years after moving to the States. Friends who’ve visited and returned have told him “There is more freedom in France.”

Despite all his beautiful paintings, he has never had a showing. An exhibit in the works was foiled due to the pandemic.

“I am bowled over by Jacques’ artistry and generosity,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “We’re delighted to exhibit Jacques’ landscapes showing the seasons in our new calendar.” The calendar traces birthdates of famous freethinkers and some major freethought events.

FFRF first became aware of Le Fresne’s artistry when he won a contest many years ago for a new winter solstice card to be marketed by FFRF. Le Fresne’s “Train in Snow” card won. That beautiful card is being re-issued this year, along with several other winter scenes Jacques has kindly donated.

Buy the FFRF calendar

FFRF is offering its elegant and functional 11”x 8.5” 2022 wall calendar chronicling famous freethinkers by birthdate. Learn freethought history while marking off dates.
Go to ffrf.org/shop and search for “calendar.” $12.00

The (Not So) Good Book: FFRF publishes new book exposing the bible

Chimp bible
10 Commandments
Brian Bolton

The bible is tiresomely termed “The Good Book,” but, as author Brian Bolton tirelessly documents, it is anything but. In his newest work, The (Not So) Good Book, Bolton meticulously documents all the harmful biblical teachings and how they continue to engender discord, violence, discrimination and hatred. 

The hot-off-the-press book, subtitled What Does the ‘Holy Bible’ Really Teach?, is published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It features a black and gold trompe l’oeil cover that looks like a bible, but inside you’ll find a collection of contemporary essays that constitute an arsenal of weaponry for use by atheists, humanists and freethinkers in exposing the horrors of the “Holy Bible.” The volume was compiled to serve as a source book for all Americans who consider fundamentalist Christian zealots to be a threat to religious freedom in the United States.

As Bolton notes in his introduction, the book is divided into nine primary categories. “The topics addressed begin with fundamentalist Christian dishonesty and end with unscientific biblical creationism,” he writes. 

“Between are seven major subjects: godly hate, godly murder, Jesus’ contradictory commands, Christian nationalism, decalogue deceit, prayer failure and godly executive    and feticide. The book covers basic topics of interest to scriptural skeptics, as well as curious bible believers.” The unifying theme running throughout is the reactionary viewpoint known as Christian fundamentalism.

Each chapter and section stand alone, making the book an ideal tool for quick research when you’re looking to rebut a fundamentalist claim or bible verse in your next letter to the editor, online debate, or other educational activism. The handsome 368-page trade paperback is fully indexed. 

Each section is preceded by an original humorous or hard-hitting cartoon by Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist (and Mormon-turned-atheist).

Bolton, a retired professor from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, not only dissects the many “not so good” parts of the bible, but is a keen observer of historic and current theopolitics. The book grew out of op-eds and essays on religion that Bolton has written for secular publications for more than 30 years, including Freethought Today. He notes that he began documenting the harm of Christian fundamentalism with the rise of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart. They’ve since been replaced by the current crop of Christian hypocrites, including Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham and Mike Huckabee.

“My hope is that readers will utilize these facts about the bible as ammunition in the ongoing battle against the extremists who want to implement a fundamentalist theocracy or Christian Caliphate in America,” Brian adds.

The book has a foreword by former evangelical preacher Dan Barker, now FFRF co-president and author of many books, including Godless. In his introduction, Barker explains that he built his whole life on the firm conviction that the bible is a reliable source of knowledge and morality. He writes, “One of the hardest things in the world to say is, ‘I was wrong.’” Barker adds, “It is my hope that after reading Brian Bolton’s stunning and honest analysis, believers who are mature, rational and kind will summon the courage to say: ‘I was wrong.’”

All proceeds go to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for defense of the separation between religion and government, the promotion of freethought philosophy and the secular worldview.

Bolton, a Lifetime Member, is a committed activist who has endowed FFRF’s Brian Bolton Graduate Essay Contest, the executive wing of FFRF’s building, Freethought Hall, and the Brian F. Bolton Distinguished Professorship in Secular Studies at the University of Austin.

The (Not So) Good Book: What Does the ‘Holy Bible Really Teach? by Brian Bolton is available for $15 postpaid and can be ordered by mail from FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701 or from FFRF’s online shop, ffrf.org/shop. The book is included in FFRF’s 2021 fall/winter solstice catalog of books and products, which has been mailed to all members.

Freethought badge recipients: Dawn Sherfield, Zachary Van Stanley

Zachary Van Stanley

The Freedom From Religion Foundation offers a badge to reward freethinking youths and to challenge the Boy Scouts of America’s discriminatory policy against the nonreligious. 

The Boy Scouts of America formally discriminates against nonreligious boys and their families, officially excluding atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers. BSA maintains “that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God.”

Scouts who wish to earn this badge are asked to help disprove BSA’s misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens by sending FFRF a short essay that addresses BSA’s claim.

If any person fulfills the requirements, FFRF will be delighted to reward them with this badge. 

To apply online, go to ffrf.org, click on the Outreach and Events menu, and then click on “Freethought Badge.” To apply via mail, send a short essay on how nonbelievers can be good citizens to FFRF, Attn: Freethought Badge, P.O. Box 750, Madison, WI 53701.

Dawn Sherfield

Here is Dawn Sherfield’s essay that earned her the freethought badge:

“Thank you so much for my envelope and badge! It’s been a rough year in rural Indiana dealing with my daughter’s public school actively promoting Christianity, still reciting the post-1954 version of the Pledge of Allegiance and observing ‘Good Friday.’ That was just a fraction. My daughter had to deal with alienation and bullying for refusing to stand or recite the pledge and had to endure staff frequently speaking about Christianity in class. This was not deemed a violation of the Constitution by the U.S. Board of Education because Christian privilege is a powerful thing, unfortunately. Keep up the good work! You are appreciated!! I’m gonna keep speaking out on social media.”

Zachary Van Stanley

This is the essay Zachary Van Stanley wrote to earn his freethought badge:

“I worked hard to become an Eagle Scout. I volunteer in my community and regularly advocate for acting locally. I have donated most of my possessions to those who need them more than me. I have become a vegan and stopped consuming plastic, specifically to help others. I am kind and will help anyone who needs it. I have spent countless hours controlling invasive species in my area. I contribute to citizen science projects often. I even helped an elderly person to cross the street. And I am a proud atheist. I have many strong beliefs, but none of them comes from religion. I care deeply for others, and this has nothing to do with religion. I am a good citizen, and I am a nonbeliever. The idea that morality is rooted in religion, pervasive as it is, is absurd. 

Here is Zachary’s response after receiving the badge:

“I was so excited to get the badge that I opened it up while I was walking home from work. I love your organization, and I am saving up to pay for a Lifetime Membership. This badge means so much to me. There is so much that I am glad to have experienced from Scouts, but there is also much that I disagree with now. I recently used my experience retiring the colors at Rushmore to argue that we need to return the land back to the Native people, for instance. To me, this badge means owning my complex history with Boy Scouts and with religion. Thank you.”

Dawn Sherfield

A missed chance to promote independent judiciary

FFRF is disheartened over the do-nothing preliminary findings of President Biden’s commission tasked with looking at expansion of the Supreme Court.

The Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, consisting of 36 legal scholars, lawyers and former federal judges, was created only to study the problem. But its draft materials have hid behind that tepid mandate and engaged in a craven attempt to please everyone — especially the court being examined. The draft is weak and utterly fails to recognize the critical problem the court presents. The commission’s bias against court expansion seems based in part on what it has said is a lack of public support, plus an exaggerated fear of unchecked growth in Supreme Court seats and the puzzling assumption that it might “reinforce the notion that the justices are partisan actors.”

The high court is already stacked with six partisan actors, including a third appointed by former President Trump using an extremist litmus test. Two of the Supreme Court seats were “stolen” by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to schedule hearings for Merrick Garland, nominated by President Obama with 11 months left in his term. McConnell effectively reduced the size of the Supreme Court that year by fiat and then hypocritically fast-tracked the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in the very midst of the ongoing national election, a mere 30 days after she was nominated by Trump in September 2020.

FFRF has endorsed expansion of the entire federal judiciary — from the U.S. Supreme Court all the way down. Reps. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., co-sponsored a bill calling for the addition of four seats to the Supreme Court. The case for high court expansion includes the fact that the number of justices on the high court was historically tied to the number of circuit courts of appeals — and there are now 13 such circuits. The expansion of lower courts, woefully understaffed, shouldn’t even be considered controversial.

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, was a member of the commission.

“Many people, and I include myself in this, believe we are indeed in a break-the-glass moment,” Tribe writes. “A moment when we cannot simply treat disagreement about particular trends of decision as matters of more or less, but a moment . . . where we may be on an irreversible path, a kind of one-way ratchet in which a series of decisions suppressing voting rights, saying the courts are powerless to deal with gerrymandering, eliminating the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, then gutting what is left of the Voting Rights Act . . . the combined effect is to endanger the survival of self-government.

“For those who believe the course is profoundly misguided, to say the only clearly constitutional path is blocked is essentially to say stop worrying about the court. For this report to send that message, when one believes the opposite, would be a profound mistake.”

Although the final commission report will come down in mid-November, it seems foregone that it will be a wasted and missed opportunity to safeguard an independent judiciary — a debacle that will haunt our republic. Watch out.

FFRF’s Greater Sacramento Chapter — Impressive project puts schools on alert

Mark Thew of FFRF’s Greater Sacramento Chapter looks over FFRF’s “Top 10 State/Church Public School Violations” brochures that the chapter sent to every school district in California. (Photo by Janet Thew)

FFRF’s Greater Sacramento Chapter recently finished a massive undertaking by sending FFRF’s “Top 10 Public School State/Church Violations” brochures, along with a firmly worded cover letter, to all the school districts in California.

The Schools Project, as the chapter calls it, required 18 volunteers to complete. 

“We already received our first response from a school district superintendent who got our cover letter and brochure,” said chapter President Judy Saint. “I took a deep breath as I prepared to defend the Constitution or perhaps evaluate any threats, but I was pleasantly amazed that it was a positive reply!” 

Here was the response:

“I just received a letter and a brochure from your local chapter president, Judy Saint. Once in a while, I have the privilege of receiving things like this that renew my hope in humanity. I am fortunate to work in two school districts where controversy around religious practice is pretty much nonexistent, but I have worked in places where that was not the case, where the religious tone felt oppressive. I will include the materials Ms. Saint sent as correspondence on an upcoming school board agenda. Thanks for your work!”

Saint said it took three managing volunteers and 15 volunteer addressors to get the cover letter and brochure to all of California’s 848 school districts. Every high school and unified district received the packet, as well as almost every elementary school district, with directions to share with their boards and schools. 

“According to FFRF attorneys, school complaints take a vast amount of their time, so we hopefully have warded off some issues to help keep their desks less encumbered,” Saint said. “These mailings to each superintendent and board of almost all the school districts in California put them on notice. If our attorneys contact them in the future, the districts cannot say they were not warned. It gives our attorneys a leg up in their discussions. Almost every school superintendent and school board in the entire state of California now know we are here, we know the law, and we are watching!”

USPS honors Le Guin, an FFRF ‘Emperor’ winner

Nella Larsen stamp.
Ursula Le Guin stamp.
Alain Locke stamp.
Ursula K. Le Guin signs a copy of one of her books during the 2009 FFRF convention in Seattle. (Photo by Greg Gilbert)

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has issued a stamp honoring renowned author Ursula K. Le Guin, who spoke at FFRF’s 2009 convention and earned its Emperor Has No Clothes award.

Le Guin, who died at 88 in 2018, was the famed author of more than 20 novels, including pioneering science fiction and fantasy. Her many literary honors include the Hugo for her 1969 book, The Left Hand of Darkness, and another Hugo in 1975 for The Dispossessed. She wrote 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, three collections of essays, at least 12 books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation. 

The postal service’s website says of the Le Guin stamp, which was issued on July 27: “The 33rd stamp in the Literary Arts series honors Ursula K. Le Guin, who expanded the scope of literature through novels and short stories that increased critical and popular appreciation of science fiction and fantasy.”

At the 2014 National Book Awards, Le Guin was given the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The New York Times reported that she accepted the medal on behalf of her fellow writers of fantasy and science fiction, who, she said, had been “excluded from literature for so long” while literary honors went to the “so-called realists.”

At her acceptance speech at FFRF’s 2009 convention in Seattle, Le Guin said: “Let the tailors of the garments of God sit in their tailor shops and stitch away, but let them stay there in their temples, out of government, out of the schools. And we who live among real people — real, badly dressed people, people wearing rags, people wearing army uniforms, people sleeping on our streets without a blanket to cover them — let us have true charity: Let us look to our people, and work to clothe them better.” 

Two other freethinkers also have been honored recently with USPS stamps. Nella Larsen and Alain Locke are two of the four “Voices of the Harlem Renaissance” stamps that were issued in 2020.

The USPS site describes why Larsen was honored with a stamp: “In two novels, Nella Larsen (1891-1964) explored the complex experiences of mixed-race people and questions of identity and belonging. Now considered one of the most important novelists of the Harlem Renaissance, Larsen challenged conventional thinking, and her work continues to invite interpretations from previously neglected points of view.”

FFRF’s Freethought of the Day includes a biography of Larsen and this quote: “With the obscuring curtain of religion rent, she was able to look about her and see with shocked eyes this thing she had done to herself. She couldn’t, she thought ironically, even blame God for it, now that she knew he didn’t exist.” — Larsen, writing in Quicksand about her character Helga Crane.

And here’s what the USPS site has to say about Locke’s importance to the Harlem Renaissance. “Writer, philosopher, educator and arts advocate Alain Locke (1885-1954) was a vital intellectual figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Locke wrote and edited some of the most significant publications of the movement, and he played a leading role in supporting and promoting writers and artists.”

FFRF’s Freethought of the Day bio of Locke ends with this quote: “The best argument against there being a God is the white man who says God made him.” — Locke, as quoted in Christopher Buck’s book, Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy.

Billboards target ‘megapreachers’

This billboard by FFRF was up for a month in the Nashville area in September.

FFRF kicked off in Nashville a national billboard campaign in September targeting what FFRF calls “irresponsible megapreachers.” 

The 14-by-48-foot billboards, in a stained-glass-window motif, gave the advice to “Sleep in on Sunday” and “Enjoy life now — there is no afterlife.” 

The eye-catching billboards were on I-24 West, west of Briley Parkway, and on Lebanon Road, a mile east of Andrew Jackson Parkway. They went up in early September and were up for a full month. The billboard messages were directed at megachurch pastors Kent Christmas of Regeneration Nashville, and Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church, and, of course, their flocks. 

Locke is the incendiary preacher who has perpetuated QAnon conspiracy myths and has castigated the pope, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks. He has called President Biden “demon-possessed,” Vice President Kamala Harris a “jezebel demon” and claimed they oversee “child-trafficking” tunnels underneath the White House. Locke termed Donald Trump the “legitimate” leader of the United States in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Most concerningly, the pastor was in the mob outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, praying with a bullhorn — and hyped the riot ahead of time. After the riot, he was banned by social media. Unfortunately, Locke remains influential, with more than 2 million followers on Facebook. 

Kent Christmas, who is founding pastor of Regeneration Nashville and heads Kent Christmas Ministries International, has likewise insisted that Trump won the presidential election, and that the presidential race was “a war between heaven and hell.” Christmas, who is stridently opposed to abortion and gay rights, and routinely spouts off about “demons” and “sin,” claims to be a prophet of doom. 

In its billboard campaign, FFRF advised the good folks of Nashville to ignore these figures.

“It would be far better to sleep in on Sunday — or commune with nature or volunteer to help someone — than to waste time getting infected with disinformation by either of these blowhards,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The only afterlife that ought to concern any of us is leaving our descendants and planet a secure and pleasant future.”

Locke recorded a video of himself burning a copy of the book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, written by Andrew L. Seidel, FFRF’s director of strategic response. “America would be kinder, healthier and happier if fewer people listened to Locke and more listened to their conscience. Don’t waste another minute swallowing the hate spewed by these peddlers of outrage,” says Seidel. “Take a nap instead.”

Gaylor notes that the “truly good news” is that church attendance in the United States is dropping off precipitously, with less than half of Americans claiming to belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 70 percent church membership in 1999.

Similar billboard messages from FFRF will soon be aimed at Houston megapreacher Joel Osteen.