The week’s highlight for us here at the Freedom From Religion Foundation was protesting Mike Pence at our state Capitol.
On Tuesday, a bunch of us FFRF’ers went over to the Wisconsin Statehouse and let the vice president know that he wasn’t welcome in our home state to promote school vouchers. As FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott explained in the Madison’s daily newspaper, these programs overwhelmingly benefit religious schools that constantly underperform. “Vice President Mike Pence, who plans to attend a rally today at the state Capitol to bolster ‘school choice,’ may love the idea of spending taxpayer money on private religious schools — but families and taxpayers alike should be alarmed,” his column in the Wisconsin State Journal began.
We at FFRF have, of course, known that for a long time, and so as soon as we learned of Pence’s visit, we began planning our protest.
Many FFRF staffers and local members demonstrated outside the Capitol on a frigid Wisconsin January morning, and some of us even got inside. When Pence and surprise guest Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke, we let them know we weren’t buying their message. And we received media coverage in the bargain.
“Many of the protesters had signs emphasizing the importance of the separation between church and state,” the University of Wisconsin student newspaper reported. “The Freedom from Religion Foundation was passing out pamphlets critiquing the private school voucher system.”
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who was not only there but got chastised by a cop for protesting too vigorously, explains in our “Newsbite” segment what went on – and why we were there.
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On our radio show this week, we asked Patrick to critique Pence’s “celebration” of vouchers in Madison, then heard an excerpt of a speech that FFRF “Freethought Heroine” Mandisa Thomas, founder and president of Black Nonbelievers, gave at FFRF’s convention last year. The lively program also examined President Trump’s religiously motivated anti-abortion ideology (see below) and saluted Packer football legend Aaron Rodgers for publicly affirming that he’s a nonbeliever.
Trumpian embarrassments all around
Another Trump subordinate — and the big guy himself — also received some of our attention. Trump made remarks at the annual March for Life rally (the first president to ever do it in person) that were embarrassingly pandering to religion. And Trump’s “spiritual adviser” Paula White, who now occupies a White House position, superembarrassed herself (if that’s possible) by publicly appealing to Jesus Christ to “command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now.” We asked her to be fired or resign. “It’s an embarrassment to our nation that White is a government employee,” Dan said.
We’re helping organize a First Amendment conference!
Thankfully, not all our time was taken up during the week in decrying the shenanigans of the theocratic Trump administration. We proudly announced that we’re supporting a symposium on the First Amendment at the Roger Williams University. The one-day gathering with the title “Is This A Christian Nation?” will be held on Friday, March 27, at the main campus in Bristol, R.I.
“We’re gratified that we’re enabling a gathering of some of the best legal minds in the country to focus on an issue that defines us a country,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The belief that the United States is a ‘Christian nation’ is unfortunately a common and dangerous misconception.”
A Texan-sized secular researcher
And we hailed the setting up of a new secular studies professorship at the University of Texas at Austin that will focus on the growing segment of the U.S. population adhering to a secular worldview, thanks to a generous gift from Brian Bolton, a stalwart FFRF supporter. “Now, the best public university in an immensely important state has a researcher focusing on a woefully neglected segment of the population,” Annie Laurie remarked. FFRF is officially named on Brian’s agreement with UT-Austin as a future consultant.
A number of victories
We notched up some victories during a hectic week. A Texas public school district will properly charge a religious ministry for the use of its property after we advised it to do so. And a West Virginia city council replaced a routine prayer before meetings with a secular alternative following our complaint. “In response to a letter from a religious freedom organization, Wheeling City Council will shift to secular prayers before opening meetings,” reports the local paper.
Humanist scholar who focuses on race is on “Freethought Matters”
On our television show this week, we interview a distinguished humanist scholar whose work has often focused on race. Anthony B. Pinn, a professor of humanities and religion at Rice University and the author of several books, says on the show: “Humanism has an obligation to think in terms of quality of life, to address the issues that prevent communities from living fully. Within the context of the United States, one of those undeniable issues is the issue of race.” Find out where you can see the show on Sunday. Or you can always catch it on our YouTube channel.
Secular questioning of presidential candidates
The Iowa caucuses are just around the corner, so what better time to have Iowa freethinking activist Justin Scott on our “Ask an Atheist” Facebook Live feature? Justin has made a name for himself asking tough questions on secular issues to presidential candidates visiting his home state, and he talks about all that with Dan and FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel in person right here in our studio.
Our homage to a freethinking legislative pioneer
We also paid tribute to a freethinking legislative pioneer: Pete Stark, who died on Jan. 24, was the only “out” atheist in Congress of his generation. Stark received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, reserved for public figures who make known their dissent from religion, in 2010. You can listen to his acceptance speech here.
Whether we’re protesting theocratic officials or fondly remembering freethinking ones, we’re able to do it all only because of you.