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Puerto Rico victory, Wisconsin, HUD, and the 19th Amendment

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Our attention at the Freedom From Religion Foundation strayed near and far this week.

We achieved our first-ever court victory in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. A lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation persuaded Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary and a proselytizing school principal there to halt unconstitutional and coercive school prayer. The 50-minute biweekly prayer sessions had turned our young student plaintiffs into pariahs at their school for objecting. “We’re gratified that we were able to steer this case to a successful conclusion for the students, the families and our Constitution,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

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Our “Ask an Atheist” Facebook Live feature this week also focused on Puerto Rico. We talked about our legal victory, as well as the debut of a  Spanish-language essay competition for students there underwritten by FFRF. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor  chatted with members of the Secular Humanists of Puerto Rico, which co-represented the Puerto Rican family in the case above along with FFRF and administered the student contest. They were joined by the very appealing first- and second-place student winners. Before that, they celebrated the freethought origins of the 19th Amendment, adopted 100 years ago this year granting women the right to vote and first proposed by an agnostic — Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

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The federal government is enabling bigotry
Here on the mainland, we took on the federal government. A proposed Housing and Urban Development rule to allow shelters to “establish a policy that places and accommodates individuals on the basis of their biological sex, without regard to their gender identity” is blatantly pandering to religious prejudice, we asserted in a public comment. Voices openly calling for the right to discriminate against the vulnerable population of transgender individuals almost invariably cite “religious freedom” as a justification, and catering to these bigoted demands violates our entirely secular Constitution. We also asked you all to add your voice of opposition to this inhumane policy proposal.

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“We the People” need a better union
Of course, events in our home state didn’t escape our attention. We condemned the police shooting and vigilante homicides in Kenosha, Wis. After all, we work to uphold the principles embodied in our secular Constitution, whose preamble, investing sovereignty not in a divinity but in “We the People,” promises “the United States [will] promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

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Announcing our Lorraine Hansberry Humanist Award
We launched a new student scholarship scheme. In association with the Women’s Leadership Project, we announced the establishment of the Lorraine Hansberry Humanist Scholarship Award, funding for the first time this year $1,000 scholarships for five recently graduated high school seniors from Los Angeles. Congratulations to the winners!

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New victories this week
We notched up a few constitutional victories: The Morgan County School Board in Tennessee had been opening its meetings with a Christian prayer, and we made them stop. Our powers of persuasion were strong enough to get a “prayer locker” removed from a Texas junior high school, too (a First Amendment violation we hadn’t encountered before!). “We’re glad to impart constitutional lessons to school districts,” said Dan.

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Stop persecuting a Nigerian freethinker
We paid attention to international happenings, too, demanding that Nigeria account for and release an atheist who has vanished from view after being detained for the victimless “crime” of blasphemy. “If an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being can’t handle a little criticism and needs human laws for protection, well, that’s an excellent argument against the existence of such a being,” Dan remarked.

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Celebrating the 19th Amendment
The nation is currently celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and FFRF commemorated it in a number of ways. Veteran freethinker and writer Jim Haught charted the long, long journey to women’s equality — and how religion has played a deeply negative role. “The battle for full women’s equality still isn’t over,” he concluded.

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On our radio show, Annie Laurie and Dan talked with author and feminist activist Coline Jenkins, great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, about the new statue celebrating women’s rights featuring Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth that  she helped create and install in Central Park on Wednesday. Then, on a lighter note, they chatted with author and screenwriter Chris Matheson about his new movie “Bill and Ted Face The Music” (yes, the latest installment in the “immortal” Keanu Reeves series) and about his forthcoming irreverent book, The Buddha’s Story.

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How far Falwell has fallen
FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel had a fun time eviscerating Jerry Falwell Jr. after the recent revelations of the evangelical’s multiple, ahem, indiscretions. “It’s just a matter of time before another prominent religious hypocrite is outed for engaging in the very behavior they so vehemently condemn,” he concluded.

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An engrossing FFRF discussion this upcoming Monday
FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert will discuss recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and their potential ramifications on state/church separation on Monday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. Eastern. This event is free and open to the public, so please sign up!

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See you next week!

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