This week at FFRF has been particularly busy as the majority of our staff finalized last minute details for, and headed off to, our national convention this weekend in San Francisco. Even in the midst of convention preparation, we managed to keep the state/church separation gears turning as always. Let’s jump right in.
FFRF started the week, like many, horrified by the multiple killings inside of a Pittsburg synagogue last Saturday. No group or individual should be targeted in a hate crime because of their religion or irreligion. Our sincerest condolences remain with the grieving families of this devastating violence.
Additionally, FFRF, along with many Jewish leaders, denounced Mike Pence’s use of the synagogue killings to further his Christian nationalist agenda.
“Pence’s opportunism — his taking advantage of the worst anti-Semitic mass murder in U.S. history to promote Christianity — is despicable,” read FFRF’s statement.
Jeff Sessions addresses Federalist Society chapter
Additionally, FFRF corrected a barrage of misstatements in Jeff Session’s speech to a Boston chapter of the Federalist Society, one of them being a repeat of a Kellyanne Conway lie, stating that the synagogue shooting “was not just an attack on the Jewish faith. It was an attack on all people of faith. And it was an attack on America’s values protecting those of faith.”
The shooter was anti-Semitic, not anti-religious, FFRF pointed out, as he himself appears to be Christian, quoting the New Testament to justify his anti-Semitism.
Sessions’ speech went on to capture his haunting vision for religious liberty and sell a story of religious persecution and demonize the nonreligious. FFRF offered a rebuttal to a few of his most egregious claims.
We call foul
FFRF raised serious concern over another proselytizing coach, this time in DeKalb County, Tenn. A concerned parent reported that the coach of the girls and boys soccer team at DeKalb County High School reportedly leads both teams in prayer before each game and has taken these athletes on trips where he has led bible studies and required that they sing Christian songs. FFRF sent a letter to the district insisting that it take action to stop any and all staff-led prayers and religion activities occurring within district athletic programs.
A concerned local FFRF member reported that while acting in his official capacity as governor, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant promoted two religious events. FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent the governor a letter asking that he withdraw his endorsement for the still upcoming event and requested public records having to do with the religious events publically supported by his office.
FFRF celebrated the repeal of Ireland’s blasphemy laws last weekend, applauding the work of our friends at Atheist Ireland who worked diligently to educate about the referendum. When the repeal takes effect, they noted, “our laws can then protect people from harm, not protect ideas from criticism, and our media outlets will no longer have to self-censor themselves.”
We’re back in court
This Thursday, Nov. 1, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a high-profile case involving bible classes in a West Virginia school system. Last year, FFRF and Elizabeth Deal, a parent of a student, challenged in federal court the proselytizing classes held in Mercer County Schools.
Now this is scary…
This week, Washington State Rep. Matt Shea released a video admitting that he distributed an openly violent screed titled, “The Biblical Basis for War.” FFRF denounced this document as extremely dangerous and staggeringly hypocritical.
Where did that come from?
FFRF sent a letter to Moline-Coal Valley School District this week after several concerned parents reported that multiple schools invited an “illusionist” to a school assembly during the day. After the performance, students were given invitations both verbally and on paper to come to an evening performance, where he preached about his conversion to Christianity from Islam. As if this isn’t concerning enough, FFRF understands this area to have a large Muslim population which was seemingly specifically targeted for this preaching.
Weaponizing Religious Liberty
FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel wrote two op-eds for the Friendly Atheist blog this week. The first is a chilling look at the path forward for weaponizing religious liberty in the age of Kavanaugh. The second covers an amendment that is on the ballot this coming Tuesday Nov. 6 in Alabama that would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on every piece of public property in the state. This was also the topic of this week’s “Ask an Atheist” segment on Facebook live. FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker join FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel to answer the lofty question: “What is wrong with the Ten Commandments?”
Watch and Listen:
Madison viewers of our weekly TV show “Freethought Matters” will get to hear even more about the Ten Commandments from our Co-President Dan Barker on Channel 3 this Sunday at 11 p.m. (and available soon on Youtube). Those watching outside of our home base of Madison will hear from Larry Decker, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. (Check the timings in your area). Others can watch the show on FFRF’s YouTube Channel.
On our radio show this week, FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, celebrating 10 years at FFRF, updates us on the legal department’s past year of litigation and non-litigation victories for state/church separation. Later, Dan and Annie Laurie talk with United Church of Canada pastor Gretta Vosper, an open atheist and author of With or Without God, who is undergoing a “heresy trial” even though her congregation wants her to remain in the pulpit.
Finally, we are wishing a wonderful weekend of celebrating freethought to our staff and attendees at the convention this weekend. We are looking forward to having updates to share with everyone next week. We are also wishing a very happy birthday to FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor today!
Have a great weekend, and we will be back with more exciting news of state/church separation and convention re-caps next week.