40th anniversary: Timeline of FFRF’s history

View the rest of the special 40th anniversary section.

1976

  • ‘Pray on your own time.’ FFRF starts a regional group to combat governmental prayer (Dane County, Wis.).
  • First FFRF lawsuit: Feds order USPS nationwide to stop issuing religious-themed cancellations.
  • Annie Laurie Gaylor stops 122-year commence-ment prayer abuse at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 


1977

  • ‘Angels off public payroll.’ FFRF ends school funding of nativity pageant at Wisconsin Capitol.
  • John Sontarck, FFRF’s original third founding member, dies.

 


1978

  • FFRF goes national!
  • Convention speakers: Supreme Court victors Vashti McCollum,  Roy Torcaso.
  • FFRF pickets Catholic Church.

1979

  • First paid employee (part-time): Sheila Thompson.
  • First student essay contest established.
  • FFRF removes cross from Terry Andrae (Wis.) State Park.
  • Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor appear on NBC’s ‘Tom Snyder Show.’

1980

  • FFRF publishes first bible warning label.
  • FFRF publishes first book: The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible, by Ruth Hurmence Green.
  • ‘Phooey on Falwell’ FFRF picket.
  • First FFRF T-shirt!
  • First FFRF film: ‘A Second Look at Religion.’
  • FFRF rents first office.

1981

  • Anne Gaylor joins paid staff.
  • July 7, Ruth Green dies. Writes: ‘Freedom depends upon freethinkers.’
  • FFRF’s second book: Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, by Annie Laurie Gaylor.

1982

  • Gaylor v. Reagan lawsuit filed against ‘Year of the Bible.’ Judge James Doyle rips Congress over Year of Bible, won’t enjoin it.
  • FFRF’s airs its first TV show, ‘Freethought Forum.’
  • FFRF publishes third book: Lead Us Not Into Penn Station, by Anne Gaylor.

1983

  • Intro issue, Freethought Today, debuts in September.
  • Anne choked by anti-abortion woman after TV show in Philadelphia.
  • Four-city TV tour over Year of Bible.
  • Anne Gaylor on CNN’s ‘Crossfire.
  • FFRF puts up first bus ads: ‘The bible: A grim fairy tale.’

1984

  • FFRF sues and wins over UW-Madison religious recruiting.
  • Launches ‘Christians Anonymous’ hotline.
  • Newspaper headline: ‘Anne Gaylor, Lightning Rod.’
  • Oprah Winfrey features FFRF on TV show with guests Anne, Annie Laurie, Dan Barker & Rita Bell.
  • FFRF solstice signs on city buses.

1985

  • Dan Barker’s first of 130 debates for FFRF takes place in Nashville.
  • Wisconsin state Senate (briefly) drops paid prayers after FFRF requests equal time.
  • FFRF moves to more spacious office.
  • FFRF sues over La Crosse Ten Commandments, Part I.
  • First ex-clergy panel at FFRF’s Minneapolis convention.
  • Isaac Asimov speaks at N.J. Chapter event.

1986

  • FFRF sues to halt Illinois State Chapel suggested by Pat Robertson.
  • Wisconsin attorney general rules against pre-game prayer.
  • FFRF’s first TV commercial, starring Sheila (Thompson) Jensen.

1987

  • Butterfly McQueen becomes 22nd FFRF Lifetime Member.
  • FFRF’s second TV commercial featuring Dan Barker airs in Honolulu, Madison, Wis., and Jefferson City, Mo. Censored elsewhere.
  • Dan’s ‘Stay Away Pope Polka’ airs in all U.S. cities pope visits.
  • Media includes ‘Sally Jessy Raphael,’ Boston People Are Talking, Detroit’s ‘Kelly & Co.’

1988

  • Second FFRF film, ‘Champions of the First Amendment,’ debuts.
  • FFRF publishes Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children by Dan Barker.
  • FFRF publishes Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children by Annie Laurie Gaylor.

1989

  • Media: ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘700 Club,’ ‘Donahue.’
  • Anne Gaylor wins Gaylor v. Hanaway lawsuit.
  • Bible-free hotel room request gets international coverage.
  • Butterfly McQueen at FFRF’s convention in Atlanta.
  • FFRF sues over Ten Commandments at Colorado state Capitol.

1990

  • FFRF complaint closes infamous Baptist home for children.
  • Alabama FFRF chapter protests Cheaha State Park Chapel.
  • FFRF moves into Freethought Hall, a two-story building in Madison, Wis., thanks to kind donors. (See painting, above.)
  • Jack Kevorkian speaks at annual convention.

1991

  • FFRF sues over Waunakee, Wis.,  crèche.
  • FFRF mentioned in Tom Robbins’ novel, Skinny Legs and All.
  • ‘Portrait of an Atheist’ about Catherine Fahringer in San Antonio Express-News.
  • Probable cause found, FFRF’s ethics complaint over Alabama Gov. H. Guy Hunt.

1992

  • FFRF asks Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl for ‘equal time’ invocation. No go.
  • FFRF publishes Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith.
  • July 4: Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall Grand Opening.
  • FFRF proclaims Oct. 12 ‘Freethought Day.’
  • Catherine Fahringer flies FFRF banners over San Antonio.

1993

  • FFRF asks Sen. Russ  Feingold to permit Barker invocation. No go.
  • FFRF wins suit: Denver mayor enjoined from proclaiming day of prayer.
  • ‘Religion is the problem’ banner flies during pope’s visit in Colorado.
  • FFRF reissues One Woman’s Fight by Vashti McCollum.

1994

  • FFRF stops federal money for Our Lady of the Rockies.
  • FFRF challenges ‘In God We Trust’ motto.
  • FFRF holds ‘Good without God’ event for schoolkids.

1995

  • FFRF’s Alabama chapter sues Roy Moore. 
  • Butterfly McQueen dies Dec. 22.

1996

  • Supreme Court refuses FFRF appeal over ‘In God We Trust’ suit.
  • FFRF lawsuit overturns Good Friday holiday.
  • First-ever atheist sign goes up in Wisconsin state Capitol.
  • FFRF publishes first anthology of women freethinkers, edited by Annie Laurie  Gaylor.

1997

  • FFRF wins second Wisconsin Good Friday suit.
  • FFRF sues over papal shrine in Cherry Creek Park, Colorado.

1998

  • FFRF files suit challenging Wisconsin subsidy to Catholic schools.
  • Partial victory by FFRF over Marshfield (Wis.) Jesus shrine.

1999

  • FFRF’s World Famous Atheist Cookbook debuts.
  • First Atheists in Foxholes Award was dedicated on July 4 at Lake Hypatia. Grand opening of new auditorium.
  • Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg receives the first Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

2000

  • FFRF prevails in Marshfield, Wis., shrine case; shrine may not stay on public land.
  • FFRF lawsuit with minister stops public funding to assist clergy to develop marriage standards.

2001

  • ‘Friendly Neighborhood Atheist’ music CD released by FFRF.
  • FFRF wins before appeals court, stopping direct internet subsidy to parochial schools.
  • FFRF gets city of Milwaukee to remove first Eagles Ten Commandments monument placed on public property (see photo at right).

2002

  • FFRF wins first court victory in nation against faith-based funding (Faith Works of Milwaukee).
  • ‘Scopes II’ FFRF victory halts illegal bible instruction in Rhea County, Tenn.

2003

  • FFRF sues Montana over merger with faith health co-op. First of 10 victorious court cases against the faith-based initiative handled by outside counsel Rich Bolton.

2004

  • FFRF prevails in second challenge of La Crosse Ten Commandments. (Final win, 2005.)
  • FFRF wins lawsuit against faith-based funding in Montana health co-op case.

2005

  • FFRF wins first court victory halting funding in progress under faith-based initiative, Mentorkids USA (Ariz.).
  • Barker represents atheism at World Religions Conference.
  • Media include ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, CNN, national CBS.
  • Dr. Oliver Sacks receives 2005 Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

2006

  • FFRF’s winning challenge of Faith-based Office at White House, Cabinets appealed to Supreme Court.
  • Julia Sweeney performs ‘Letting Go of God’ at annual convention.
  • FFRF publishes Rhymes for the Irreverent by Yip Harburg with Yip Harburg Foundation.

2007

  • Freethought Radio, which debuted in 2006, goes national, on 30 stations over Air America.
  • Media includes national AP, USA Today, ‘CBS Evening News,’ C-Span, CNN, ‘ABC World News,’ Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  • Plurality opinion in Hein v. FFRF denies FFRF right to sue over Cabinet faith-based offices.
  • FFRF places first billboards after 3 decades of censorship. 

2008

  • FFRF accepted for Combined Federal Campaign.
  • Ron Reagan, Janeane Garafalo, Julia Sweeney record radio ads for FFRF.
  • FFRF, with kind donor help, places first ad in New York Times.
  • FFRF places billboards in 13 states!
  • FFRF hires first attorney, Rebecca (Kratz) Markert, who writes 200 complaint letters.

2009

  • FFRF has eight staffers.
  • FFRF Darwin billboard goes up, covered by Rachel Maddow.
  • FFRF runs first bus signs in 20 years: ‘Sleep in on Sundays.’
  • Media includes CNN, Colbert’s ‘The Word’ segment, Canalplus French TV.
  • 20th anniversary 4th of July celebration at Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall.
  • Honorary Board starts.

2010

  • FFRF has 10 full-time staff, including two attorneys, who sent 300 complaint letters.
  • FFRF wins first round of National Day of Prayer challenge. FFRF runs many ads capitalizing on the victory.
  • 700 attend convention headlined by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
  • Billboard blitz includes over 100 billboards.
  • Third essay contest, for grad students, funded by Brian Bolton.

2011

  • FFRF has 13 full-time staff.
  • FFRF sues over Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s proclaimed ‘day of fasting and prayer.’
  • 90+ state/church victories, 495 letters of complaint.
  • ‘Out of the Closet’ billboard campaigns take place in North Carolina, Arizona.

2012

  • Richard Dawkins gets the Emperor Has No Clothes Award.
  • FFRF speaks at Reason Rally, Global Atheist Conference in Australia.
  • FFRF issues third music CD by Barker, ‘Adrift on a Star.’
  • FFRF places first national TV ads on ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ and ‘CBS Evening News.’
  • JFK ad & ad with Julia Sweeney against Catholic bishops runs 1,000 times.
  • Grace Quiroz wins billboard contest.

2013

  • FFRF has 14 full-time employees, including five attorneys.
  • Steven Pinker, one of ‘100 most influential people in world’ (TIME), becomes FFRF’s first honorary president.
  • Groundbreaking for expanded Freethought Hall.
  • FFRF and Sacramento chapter place 55 ‘Out of the Closet’ billboards!

2014

  • Media: Sean Hannity, Fox TV, ‘CBS This Morning’.
  • Ron Reagan records TV ad for FFRF that  runs on Comedy Central, censored by NBC, ABC, CBS, Discovery.
  • 150 state/church victories.
  • FFRF files amicus with Marci Hamilton against Hobby Lobby anti-contraception case.

2015

  • Anne Nicol Gaylor, principal founder, dies June 2015.
  • 400 attend grand opening of expanded Freethought Hall.
  • Media include CNN, ‘CBS This Morning.’
  • FFRF starts fourth essay contest, for students of color.
  • FFRF Board creates Nonbelief Relief charity.
  • Attorneys send 1,186 formal complaint letters, have 241 victories.

2016

  • FFRF refurbishes statue to Great Agnostic Robert Ingersoll in Peoria park, with help from Zenos Frudakis.
  • Attorneys write 1,050 complaint letters, earn 230 victories.
  • FFRF’s PR campaign: ‘I’m an atheist and I vote.’
  • FFRF wins inaugural Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award.

2017

  • FFRF has 24 staffers.
  • FFRF starts Educate Congress campaign (thanks to Stephen Uhl)
  • FFRF Commissions, creates Clarence Darrow statue by Zenos Frudakis, for lawn of ‘Monkey Trial’ courthouse in Rhea Co., Tenn., to balance the  historical record.

2018

  • FFRF reaches 32,000 members, 25 staffers.
  • ‘Freethought Matters’ TV show debuts.
  • Freethought Today also goes mobile friendly, online.
  • Co-creates Avijit Roy Memorial Award.