“Cosmos,” freethinking displays, a secular state rep & disappointing Supremes

This has been a turbocharged week for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

We’ve been busy on oh-so-many different fronts. We started off the week by asking a Utah  school board to quit starting official meetings with prayers, making the news in the process.

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the principle of the separation of church and state, is threatening legal action against the Washington County School District for its school board’s practice of praying before meetings,” reports a local TV station. “Chris Line, a staff attorney with the FFRF, said the practice discriminates against some members of the community. ‘Minority religious people, Jewish people, Muslims, anyone else in the community is going to feel excluded by these Christian prayers starting the meetings,’ Line said. He added that the practice of opening any government affiliated meeting with a prayer violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.”

Well put, Chris!

Congressional good tidings
The beginning of the week also brought some good tidings — on Capitol Hill, no less. The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a groundbreaking resolution calling for blasphemy and related laws to be revoked worldwide, much to our delight. We noted, however, that the fight against blasphemy laws is far from over and that we will continue to work to repeal such laws around the globe until they are confined to the dustbin of history, where they duly belong.

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A discriminatory White House send-off
The nation’s executive branch greatly irked us, on the other hand. On its way out the door, President Trump’s Labor Department has shamelessly finalized a rule that allows federal contractors to discriminate against employees based on “sincerely held religious tenets.” We plan to work with the Biden administration to undo the rule as quickly as possible.

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A Supremely disappointing court
The highest judicial entity in the land continued to disappoint us. We raised the alarm over the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest attempt to give churches special COVID privileges by siding with a California church in its challenge to restrictions on indoor worship services. “This is religious liberty run amok,” remarked FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

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And we lamented a missed opportunity by the court to address a fundamental constitutional issue in a decision this week, for a case in which we filed an amicus brief.

“The longer that the Supreme Court treats the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a de facto constitutional amendment, the longer it is continuing to damage the Constitution,” FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott told Courthouse News about the law under which the court said the plaintiff could seek pay damages. “The consequences of the decision are not yet known, but it could certainly help those who make extreme ‘religious liberty’ claims.”

We had the country’s foremost analyst of the court on our radio show this week. New York Times Supreme Court columnist and Yale scholar Linda Greenhouse spoke with FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor about what she calls “grievance conservatism” in her recent article, “Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s choice.”

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A TV interview with the “Cosmos” co-creator
On our TV show Sunday, Dan and Annie Laurie interview a co-creator of possibly the most acclaimed TV show of all time. Ann Druyan is an award-winning writer, producer, director and science educator who you perhaps know as the co-writer with her late husband, Carl Sagan, of the 1980s Emmy and Peabody-winning TV series, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” Druyan, who might be described as “an evangelist for science,” gives a riveting interview about the vital need for respect for science and poignantly talks about how she and Sagan faced his death without religion. You can already watch the show on our YouTube channel.  Or find out where you can catch it this Sunday.

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Chatting with a freethinking Florida state rep
We have yet another treat for you on our Facebook Live “Ask an Atheist” show. Annie Laurie and FFRF Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann chat with Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is the first openly agnostic LGBTQ Latinx person elected to the Florida Legislature.

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Get rid of that awful display, Gov. Evers!
Of course, we have continued doing our regular work on behalf of the Constitution. We pay special attention to our backyard, and that’s why, when we learned of two Wisconsin state representatives illegally installing a blatantly religious display in the state Capitol, we immediately urged Gov. Tony Evers to have it removed. “The state of Wisconsin is not obligated to allow private citizens, even if they are state representatives, to erect unattended displays on state property,” Dan Barker and Annie Laurie wrote to him.

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An illegal Boise State chaplaincy
We demanded that Boise State University terminate its football chaplaincy program. Public school athletic teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain, since public schools may not advance or promote religion, we pointed out.

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A coach can’t impose religion
We insisted to an Idaho school district that a football coach desist from foisting his religious doctrine on students. “A coach cannot be permitted to impose his sectarian beliefs on his athletes,” Annie Laurie emphasized.

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Do away with the Hyde Amendment
We joined in a coalition, consisting of 150-plus groups, formally urging President-elect Joe Biden to do away with federal abortion funding restrictions. In the meantime, please consider supporting abortion funds like the volunteer Women’s Medical Fund of Wisconsin.

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Thank you for all the secular displays!
Then there were all the secular displays we put up around the country due to your member activism and enthusiasm. There were not one but two in the greater Chicago area (thanks, Tom Cara). We graced New Hampshire’s capital with our exhibit (special thank you to Jack Shields). We made our freethinking presence felt in Iowa’s legislative heart (kudos to Paul Novak). And we returned to a Michigan town (a shoutout to Doug Marshall).

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Inspiring humanist words
Veteran writer and freethinker Jim Haught has some inspiring words for us secular humanism-inclined folks in his column this week.

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“Humanism means helping people — and secular humanism means doing it without supernatural religion,” he writes. “Secular humanists generally support more human rights, better education, reduction of wars, science, better nutrition and health, racial equality and other strides to improve life.”

We’re all in it together, to echo Haught’s thoughts, and we at the Freedom From Religion Foundation are constantly striving to build a better world with your support.

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