It always feels good to be advancing the secular cause here at the Freedom From Religion Foundation — and it feels even better that such efforts are noticed globally.
When Oklahoma gave official approval to a Catholic public charter school, we were quick to object and emphasize that FFRF will be filing suit soon. News outlets around the world took note.
“The Freedom from Religion Foundation said Oklahoma’s approval of the school was a ‘test case for the Catholic Church’ and that its approval represented a violation of the Constitution,” stated a story in the Washington Examiner. “‘State officials have allowed their personal religious preferences to take precedence over the Constitution by voting to force taxpayers to support a Catholic charter school,’ the foundation’s Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. The foundation’s lengthy press release indicated that the group was looking at a ‘range of options,’ including ‘a direct legal challenge.’”
A media outfit based far away featured our objection, too. “Karen Heineman of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular group opposing the school’s application, warned that any minority groups not represented by Catholic doctrine, such as followers of other religions and LGBT people, ‘should be concerned,’” said a Yahoo News Singapore piece.
LA Times gives us major play
The Los Angeles Times (no less!) did a story about a book ban drive in a Utah school district that prominently mentioned our role in having the bible itself removed from lower-grade school libraries:
The bible came under scrutiny in December when an unknown parent, irked by the number of books disappearing from school settings, requested the bible be reviewed by the district’s committee for its purported extreme sexual content, according to local news reports. The nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation supported the parent, despite the group’s overall opposition to banning books.
“This is one of these cases where the book banners have to be careful what they wish for because they can’t have their cake and eat it too,” Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “They can’t ban X-rated material and not include the bible.”
In fact, we have followed up on this issue in a second communique to the school district asserting that it did not go far enough, since it voted to remove the King James Version-only from elementary and middle schools but retained other versions and refused to remove the bible from its high schools. “The district must evaluate books on a content-neutral basis. And if it does so, the district will see that the bible is X-rated and must be banned under its policy at all public school levels,” Annie Laurie says.
Members of Congress notice our work
Members of Congress are making note of our good work on the Hill — indeed an honor. In a joint press release on the Judicial Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act, which aims to reform the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal mention our support of the bill.
A leading anti-hate group uses our report
One of the most important national organizations tracking hate in this country has built off of our work and focused for the first time in its annual report on white Christian nationalism. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Year in Hate and Extremism” analysis for 2022 reaffirms many of the findings in the report produced last year by FFRF and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty on Christian nationalism and the Jan. 6 attack, and its section on the subject specifically highlights the work of FFRF/BJC report authors Anthea Butler and Jemar Tisby.
Our effective grassroots efforts
We kept up our usual grassroots work on behalf of the First Amendment, achieving results in the process. We were pleased with the Oklahoma-based Keystone Public Schools for protecting the rights of its students and their family members by removing prayers from its graduation ceremonies after we contacted it. We received a penitent letter from the school superintendent reporting that the district will no longer include opening and closing prayers at any graduation ceremony moving forward.
We insisted that the Georgia-based Houston County School District forbid its football coaches from leading students in bible study. “The football coach’s job is to coach students in football — not about the tenets of Christianity,” said Annie Laurie.
Kudos to Connecticut!
At the state level, we celebrated Connecticut’s child marriage ban. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has just signed into law a bill ending child marriage in the state, making it the ninth in the union to set 18 as the earliest age to marry — with no exceptions. We applaud this reform, which FFRF Action Fund advocates helped pass, and urge other states to follow suit.
We commend the Supreme Court
And at the national level, we commended the U.S. Supreme Court (that makes a change!) for rejecting Alabama’s attempt to weaken our secular democracy by further eviscerating the Voting Rights Act. “White Christian nationalism has benefited for decades from undemocratic structures in our republic,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
How to counter Christian nationalism
So, how can we effectively combat Christian nationalism? On our Facebook Live “Ask an Atheist” feature this week, Annie Laurie speaks with Humanists of Minnesota President Ellie Haylund and Humanists of Minnesota Board Member Suzanne Perry about how they have been fighting Christian nationalism at the local level — and how activism can be a lot of fun.
An interview with a towering legal activist
After noting the death of uber-televangelist Pat Robertson and other news of the week, Freethought Radio co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor commemorated the upcoming 60th anniversary of the June 1963 Abington v. Schempp Supreme Court decision that removed bible reading and the Lord’s Prayer from public schools by speaking with octogenarian Ellery Schempp, the courageous high-school student who initiated the complaint.
The state of abortion nationally
FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Alvarez provides a round-up of abortion news nationally — the good and the bad — almost one year after the reversal of Roe v. Wade. “The voices and activism of freethinkers are more necessary than ever to ensure that reproductive liberty prevails,” she concludes.
The false enlightenment of Zen Buddhism
Is Zen Enlightenment for real, asks veteran freethinker and writer Jim Haught.
“I’ve tried repeatedly — lying silent in bed, blanking out my mind, hearing nothing but the rhythm of my breath, seeing nothing but dark blurs behind my eyelids,” he writes. “But all it does is put me to sleep. In the end, I never get a smidgeon of enlightenment. I’m still just the same old me.”
Our lobbying arm’s watchful eye
Our lobbying arm kept up its legislative vigil on behalf of secularism. Annie Laurie wrote a blog on how fundamentalist religious beliefs about dominating the Earth and having an afterlife are a serious threat to the future of the planet. “This cavalier viewpoint was perfectly illustrated by an absurdist conversation on Fox News this past Sunday, where three co-hosts approvingly cited the views of Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy for touting his faith and saying that America needs to ‘abandon climate religion,’” she wrote.
The FFRF Action Fund awarded Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt an overdue “Theocrat of the Week” badge of shame while commending a Michigan legislator as “Secularist of the Week.” Stitt, a Christian nationalist, is being called out by the advocacy group for his years of trying to unite state and church, most recently throwing his support behind the alarming scheme to force state taxpayers to support the nation’s first sectarian public charter school. Michigan state Rep. Betsy Coffia last week introduced a secular recovery bill to ensure that anyone ordered to attend recovery support programs be provided secular options.
With your help, we are able to engage in all this activity on behalf of secularism — and were noticed in the process.
Note: FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” Sunday TV show is on summer hiatus and will be back in the fall with its not-to-miss interviews with secular authors and activists.