Has the Capitol attack opened eyes to theocratic extremism?

Is America finally waking up to the threat Christian Nationalism poses? FFRF, which has been educating about the dangers of theocratic extremism for decades, is hopeful the attack on the Capitol has opened the nation’s eyes.

“Photos, videos and reportage illuminate the links between this attack and Christian Nationalism,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Bibles, shirts, flags, placards, patches, crucifixes, crosses and prayers were omnipresent during the attack.”

The New Yorker published striking video (bit.ly/2MAX3YG) of insurrectionists praying to Jesus on the floor of the Senate. (It comes at about the 8-minute mark of the video.) Luke Mogelson, a veteran war correspondent and a contributing writer at The New Yorker who has been reporting on the violent edges of the Trump movement and was at the Capitol, captured the moment.

Jacob Chansely, aka “Jacob Angel” and “QShaman,” who — bare-chested, face-painted, adorned in furs and a horned Viking hat — figures prominently in footage from the Capitol insurrection, led the Christian prayer. Following the prayer, he scratched out and left a threatening note on Vice President Mike Pence’s desk. Chansely removed his horned hat and started to pray as the

Insurrectionists carry a large wooden cross outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Shutterstock photo)

demonstrators in the chambers threw up their arms in supplication.

Chansely was indicted on Jan. 11 for his role in the putsch. A photo of Chansely shaking hands with Rudy Giuliani in November has since surfaced. (Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, called for “trial by combat” at the Save America rally preceding the raid on the Capitol.)

Peter Manseau, the curator of American Religious History at the National Museum of American History for the Smithsonian, has crowdsourced a project on social media with scholars, religion journalists, activists, writers and others, including FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel. They have been cataloging the connections with the hashtag #CapitolSiegeReligion.

Christian Nationalism is not going away even though its champion is no longer president. FFRF will continue to work to expose the insidious, anti-democratic nature of Christian Nationalism and its role in the attempted overthrow of our government.

FFRF, others sue Trump administration

FFRF is part of a coalition of service and advocacy organizations that have filed suit against the former Trump administration for rolling back civil rights protections for beneficiaries of federal programs.

The prior federal rules had required faith-based organizations providing critical, taxpayer-funded services (like food and shelter) to inform recipients of their legal rights to be free from discrimination, not to have to attend religious programming, and to have the opportunity to get a referral for an alternative provider.

The new rule, which went into effect Jan. 19, makes it harder for already marginalized populations to access essential social services as the United States continues to reel from a historic pandemic and economic collapse.

The Trump administration’s rollback is arbitrary and capricious. Among other things, it provided no reasonable explanation for the rule change, failed to account for its harms, and failed to consider obvious alternatives to the changes they finalized — all in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of plaintiffs: Freedom From Religion Foundation, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, SAGE, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, Ark of Freedom Alliance, American Atheists and the Hindu American Foundation. Filed against the Trump-led Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Education, Homeland Security, Justice and Labor, the suit seeks to reverse the unlawful rollback of these important protections.

Democracy Forward, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Lambda Legal represent the plaintiffs.

“On its last day in power, the Trump administration shredded important religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections for many of America’s most vulnerable populations and made it harder for them to access taxpayer-funded services in the midst of a pandemic and severe economic downturn,” the groups say in a joint statement. “The outgoing administration’s new rule unlawfully curtails the religious freedom and nondiscriminatory access to services of people seeking to obtain food, shelter, and other essential, federally funded services from faith-based organizations.”

The organizations add, “We’re taking our fight against the Trump administration’s unlawful rollback to court so that those in need of help can continue to get it without fear of discrimination or unwanted proselytization.”

FFRF felt an urgent necessity to join in the lawsuit.

“The Trump administration’s perversion of religious freedom continued until, literally, its last day,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re determined to ensure that individuals not believing in the majority creed know their rights and are empowered to protect themselves against discrimination and marginalization while receiving vital social services.”

On Dec. 17, the Trump administration finalized its sweeping rule, which eliminates common-sense requirements that were put in place in 2016. Those requirements were the result of a historic effort to reach consensus on how religion and government should interact in the context of federally funded social services. The Trump administration’s rollback unlawfully puts the interests of religious organizations, which provide a significant slice of federally funded social services, ahead of the rights and needs of the vulnerable populations they serve.

As a result of the 2020 rule, FFRF plans to spend additional time and resources educating beneficiaries and providers who take part in social service programs about the rights of participants. One of the ways FFRF is doing that is by distributing “know-your-rights” material for program participants.

FFRF is also planning to conduct an education campaign directed at faith-based entities that receive federal financial assistance to remind them of the remaining nondiscrimination requirements under the new Trump rules. FFRF further plans to launch an education campaign aimed at secular organizations that serve vulnerable populations in order to enable those groups to support the people they serve in advocating for themselves when receiving services from faith-based organizations.

FFRF has in the past pursued complaints about faith-based organizations receiving federal financial assistance.

FFRF welcomes Life members

FFRF welcomes and thanks its three newest After-Life members, 19 Lifetime members and two Immortals.

The new $1,000 Lifetime members are Mark Anton, Lawrence M. Axlerod, Richard Carl Brown, Christopher Erbland, Michael Fischer, Laurie Fresh, Rebecca Glenn (gifted by Jeff Glenn), Carolyn M. Jones, Gwen Jones, Keith Miller, Thomas E. Norris, Christopher R. Paul, James Rohrbaugh, John Rowe, George Saunders (gifted by George’s wife Linda Saunders for his 80th birthday), Ed Scharf, Richard C. Schwartz, Stephen Walrath and Robert M. Zellers.         

The three new After-Life members are Edward H. Kolner, Joan Lavier and John Wilson. After-Life is a very generous membership category of $5,000. 

The two new Immortals are George Pedraja and Nicole Andrea Porcaro. The Immortals category is for those who have made provisions in their estate for FFRF.

States represented are California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Boy Scouts can earn a Freethought badge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation produces a badge to reward freethinking youths and to challenge the Boy Scouts of America’s discriminatory policy against the nonreligious. The badge, based on the Dawkins’ “A,” is issued in collaboration with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

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

FFRF maintains that no one can grow into the best kind of citizen who discriminates against the nonreligious, and that it’s what you do — not what you believe — that makes you a good person.

Social disapproval prompted BSA to largely drop a similar ban on membership against gay Scouts. But BSA persists in stigmatizing those who use reason and critical thought to evaluate religious claims.

FFRF, at the urging of its late member Richard Kirschman, has produced a badge similar to BSA’s merit badges, which are typically sewn on uniforms or sashes.

Scouts who wish to earn this badge are asked to help disprove BSA’s misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens.

At Dawkins’ suggestion, the Scout is also required to send FFRF a short essay that addresses BSA’s claim that nonbelievers can’t be good citizens. Unlike BSA badge providers, FFRF will not charge Scouts money for the badge.

FFRF intends the badge to reward Boy Scouts who have persevered in an organization that basically has instituted a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy about atheist and agnostic participants, but has regularly expelled open nonbelievers. While BSA officials dictate the discriminatory policy, Scouting troops vary widely in their enforcement of the ban, so it’s believed many Scouts are nonreligious.

But if any young boy — or girl — fulfills the requirements, FFRF will be delighted to reward them with this badge. Many nonreligious students who might otherwise wish to join BSA never join, knowing of its bigoted policy. This is also their chance to be rewarded for critical thinking and to earn a keepsake at the same time.

FFRF hopes someday very soon that BSA itself will change its policy and adopt its own official merit badge rewarding critical thinking. It urges those who care about equality for nonbelieving children to contact BSA to protest this invidious discrimination.

Miura Pepper Rempis of Tennessee earned one of FFRF’s Freethought badges. Here is a portion of her essay:

“In the same way that believers are often the most wicked, morals are not defined by the belief in a higher power. Morality and conscience exist independent of a belief in the God delusion and any correlation between the two is purely circumstantial. Correlation does not equate to causation.”

Miura Pepper Rempis shows off the Freethought badge.

FFRF’s iconic Reagan ad aired on four networks

Ron Reagan appears in FFRF’s television ad.

Three national network television comedy news programs and one national news show aired FFRF’s famous Ron Reagan ad several times.

FFRF’s iconic ad featuring Reagan’s famous line “Unabashed atheist . . . not afraid of burning in hell” made its debut on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” on TBS. It also ran on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” on Comedy Central and on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS. The ad ran for two weeks on each of the shows beginning on Jan. 20.

It also aired on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” beginning Feb. 1 through Feb. 11.

In the commercial, Reagan says:

“Hi, I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended. Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”

Reagan’s signature line has spawned an interactive digital “billboard,” as well as an “unabashed” T-shirt, cap, a lapel pin and a new handcrafted mug.

“These ads over national networks are raising consciousness about the growing numbers of Americans, even the son of a conservative president, who are making known their dissent from religion,” says Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

FFRF thanks Ron Reagan for his gracious endorsement, as well as FFRF members who contribute to FFRF’s advertising fund, which makes possible the advertisements and has significantly grown FFRF’s membership, now at over 33,500.

FFRF: Supreme Court spreads church preference, Covid-19

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a dismaying order Feb. 5 overriding “the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic,” as dissenting Justice Elena Kagan put it. “In the worst public health crisis in a century,” Kagan writes, “this foray into armchair epidemiology cannot end well.”

The order prohibits California from enforcing some of its Covid-19 regulations against churches, such as prohibitions against indoor worship services in high-risk areas (identified as “Tier 1”). A brief unsigned order blocked the total ban, leaving in place a 25 percent capacity restriction and prohibitions on singing or chanting indoors in Tier 1 areas.

The injunction reinforces a recent shift from the court’s prior decisions, which had held that treating churches in a neutral manner was constitutional. As the dissent from Kagan recognizes, a majority of the court now requires special preference for churches.

Chief Justice John Roberts concurred in issuing the injunction overturning a complete ban on indoor worship gatherings, but otherwise pointed to judicial deference to state officials: “I adhere to the view that the ‘Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the States.’”

Kagan’s dissent was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

“Justices of this court are not scientists,” Kagan wrote. “Nor do we know much about public health policy. Yet today the court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic. The court orders California to weaken its restrictions in public gatherings by making a special exception for worship services. The majority does so, even though the state’s policies treat worship just as favorably as secular activities (including political assemblies) that, according to medical evidence, pose the same risk of Covid transmission.”

Kagan further observed: “Under the court’s injunction, the state must instead treat worship services like secular activities that pose a much lesser danger. That mandate defies our case law, exceeds our judicial role, and risks worsening the pandemic.”

The Supreme Court’s injunction will remain in place while the court awaits a formal petition from California churches seeking a ruling on the merits.

Biden’s early executive orders a breath of fresh secular air

President Biden

FFRF is pleased to welcome many of President Biden’s early actions to reverse course on measures taken by the previous administration, which FFRF had roundly opposed.

Biden’s laudable executive orders include:

Repealing Muslim ban: FFRF long argued, including before the Supreme Court, that banning individuals from entry to the United States based on religion is an egregious religious test and violation of the Establishment Clause. The orders being overturned favored Christians from those countries, exempting them from the ban and allowing them to immigrate. FFRF pointed out that if the United States can exclude Muslims, atheists and other freethinkers would be next on the list.

Rejoining the climate change accord: FFRF’s position is that the climate crisis is a state/church issue. “It’s not just the casual denial of reality that impacts views on climate change, but also the influence of apocalyptic religiosity. The virulent strain of evangelicalism that tends to infect our current government welcomes the end of this world as a fulfillment of prophecy and ‘the second coming,’” we noted in 2017.

Ordering mask-wearing on federal property: Speaking of formulating public policy based on facts and reality, the new administration is already living up to its promise to be guided by science, with executive orders that protect federal employees and citizens by mandating masks on federal property and in interstate travel. FFRF has been advocating for a science-based approach to the pandemic since the beginning, including no exemptions for churches.

Science-minded response to COVID pandemic: Several executive orders have been aimed at combating the COVID pandemic that has been handled ineptly up until this point, with religious leaders and the prior president assuring the country that the virus will “magically” disappear while they themselves actively spread the contagion, denying the advice of doctors and scientists. The new administration has organized a government-wide response and ordered that the response must be driven by data and science.

Ending the transgender military ban: FFRF has long supported LGBTQ rights and defended them against religious bigotry and attacks. And make no mistake, the transgender military ban was directly motivated by religious bigotry.

Banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation: In another instance of correcting religion-based bigotry, the new administration also set out a policy to vigorously enforce anti-discrimination provisions with respect to LGBTQ individuals. Christian Nationalists who had the ear of the prior administration have been consistently obsessed with stopping LGBTQ people from receiving equal treatment under the law.

Promoting racial equality: “Diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths,” reads the order — and FFRF agrees. The order also explains: “Affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our government,” which is all true, but not the end of the story. FFRF has been working to implement equity, diversity and inclusion into our organization at all levels, from membership to staff to the alliances we forge, such as joining the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Humanistic executive orders: Other executive orders just signed by Biden, with more to come, embody the humanism shared by many of our freethinking members, including over immigration reform and expanded food assistance programs food assistance programs. The pandemic’s blight, both in health and economics, has disproportionately landed on people of color, low-wage workers, indigent Americans and women.

Notably absent from executive orders to date are attempts to repeal the (bogus) revoking of rules prohibiting nonprofits, including churches, from wading into partisan politics, undoing the Christian Nationalist agenda allowing religion-based discrimination by federal contractors and similar acts by the prior administration. FFRF is committed to defending the wall of separation and will hold all administrations accountable for breaching that wall or for excluding nonbelievers from the American tapestry. But we also want to recognize progress and give credit where it is due.

Biden should have skipped National Prayer Breakfast

In a misbegotten attempt at bipartisanship, President Biden has continued the lamentable presidential tradition of legitimizing the sectarian annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Biden was in virtual attendance from the White House for the dubious quasi-official prayerfest on Feb. 4. The president asked for unity and courage and exhorted the country to take on political extremism — all of which he could have done at a secular venue.

Unfortunately, Biden also ventured into religious clichés: “For so many in our nation, this is a dark, dark time,” Biden told those watching the event. “So where do we turn? Faith.”

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor responds by quoting Mark Twain.

“As Twain said, ‘Faith is believing what you know ain’t so,’” she remarks. “As we’ve seen in this pandemic, science is where we have turned, and faith has often gotten in the way.”

The Fellowship (also known as “The Family”), which puts together the jamboree, is the subject of an acclaimed Netflix series based on an investigative book by journalist Jeff Sharlet, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, who has spoken at FFRF’s annual convention and appeared on its TV show. His work has revealed that the annual breakfast is the outward face of a rather sinister evangelical organization.

And the U.S. government’s role in arranging the get-together has always been less than transparent. Although the National Prayer Breakfast is technically sponsored by the private Fellowship Foundation, which is dedicated to “the teachings and precepts of Jesus,” the nation’s lawmaking body plays a key role. “The U.S. Congress hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, and the Christian organization, The Fellowship Foundation, organizes the event on their behalf,” a website revealed for the 2017 event.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., unfortunately asserted that the event is “an inclusive and positive” one that “recognizes the teachings of Jesus but is not limited to Christianity.”

And the headliner was none other than the nation’s commander in chief. FFRF contends that the (virtual) presence of the leader of our executive branch at a shindig organized by such a cultish organization makes it appear as if the U.S. government approves of a fringe movement within one particular religion. The National Prayer Breakfast makes a mockery of our secular Constitution — and serves to undermine our political system, as well.

FFRF displays Chicago, Madison Darwin billboards

FFRF’s pro-science billboard remained up throughout February in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Chicago chapter unveiled a secular advertising campaign promoting science and pandemic safety in the Windy City in February.

The artwork features a striking image of Charles Darwin wearing FFRF’s “In Science I Trust” face mask next to the message: “In Science We Trust. Please Stay Safe.” It combines FFRF’s pro-science thrust with a celebration of Darwin Day (Feb. 12 was the birth anniversary of the scientific giant).

The 14-by-48-foot display was located on Lincoln Avenue near Foster Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood and remained up through the end of February.

FFRF warmly thanks its FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter Executive Director Tom Cara.

“This new billboard is timely in two ways,” comments Cara. “First, to encourage everyone to help keep us all safe by trusting in science, not superstition, and to mask up! Second, to give science the respect it deserves by honoring the birthday of Charles Darwin. During this critical time in our history, it is very important we recognize the outstanding contributions of those in the science and medical fields.”

A similar billboard saying “Masks on. Sleeves up,” was placed on University Avenue in Madison, Wis., through   February.

Wisconsin DOJ needs to probe Church abuse

FFRF has called on the Wisconsin Department of Justice to launch a statewide probe into the Roman Catholic clergy’s serial sexual abuse and cover-up.

FFRF is not alone in demanding a statewide inquiry. The nonprofit Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has also requested an investigation in light of recent events, and other groups, such as Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD USA), have been sounding the alarm on this problem for decades alongside FFRF.

In a letter to Attorney General Josh Kaul, FFRF describes a recent, tragic Wisconsin case in which St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, part of the Roman Diocese of Green Bay, reportedly sent a victim annual checks, totaling $400,000, to pay for counseling and medication resulting from abuse by Abbey priests. After the Abbey stopped sending these checks, Nate Lindstrom fell into a deep depression that ultimately led to suicide.

“This widespread abuse, largely unreported to secular authorities, is not limited to St. Norbert Abbey or to the Diocese of Green Bay,” FFRF’s Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker emphasize to Kaul. Twenty-one states, as well as Washington, D.C., have looked into this issue since 2002. “It is time for Wisconsin to follow the lead of these states, and the nations of Ireland and Australia, and investigate this massive and coordinated abuse of minors throughout the country.”

A 2018 1,400-page Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing thousands of instances of sexual abuse by clergy in six of the states’ eight dioceses made major headlines. It also revealed that the Catholic Church’s secretive and imposing structure allowed hundreds of offenders to escape prosecution for decades. This systemic sexual abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church is not confined to Pennsylvania — or even to the United States. The Irish and Australian governments have conducted inquiries of their own. “A multistate investigation is especially fitting because the Church’s ‘musical chairs’ history of deliberately moving offenders to new locations — shielding them from local exposure and outrage, and providing them with fresh victims — creates an interstate crisis that no individual state is equipped to handle,” FFRF writes.

Pope Francis’ failure to provide any meaningful action to correct the problem confirms what FFRF and many victims’ rights groups have asserted for decades: The methodical, organized sexual abuse in the Catholic Church will not stop until secular authorities intervene.