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Ten Commandments, Christian flags and proselytizing teachers

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fc256ee9 d57f 0338 19f1 ea506bc8a3fd Ten Commandments, Christian flags and proselytizing teachers

It’s been another busy and wild week at the Freedom From Religion Foundation as we head into the long Memorial Day weekend. From Ten Commandments proposals to proselytizing teachers to Christian nationalist flags being flown at a Supreme Court justice’s residence, FFRF is there fighting for your constitutional rights.

Godless Gospel
A photo of the godless gospel singers

But before we get started with the highlights of the week, we’d like to remind all of our New York-area members (and any others, of course) about the off-Broadway Godless Gospel performance in New York City at Theater 555 on June 24 and 25. The singing group, produced by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, has performed at two FFRF national conventions. There is no cover charge, although donations are appreciated. Please register at ffrf.us/GodlessJune24 or ffrf.us/GodlessJune25, depending on which show you’d like to attend.

Summer Frolic
We’d also like to tell (or remind) our Madison, Wis-area members that FFRF will be represented in the Mount Horeb Summer Frolic Parade on Sunday, June 9, by the newly formed South Central Wisconsin Chapter of FFRF. If you would like to join the parade, you may sign up by contacting Sue Schuetz.

A Beast of a story
6a571024 cf3d c553 ee1e 19ce712d7c12 Ten Commandments, Christian flags and proselytizing teachers

FFRF has filed a formal complaint with the IRS over flagrant electioneering violations by a Southern California pastor whose efforts to elect Donald Trump were the subject this week of a major exposé by The Daily Beast, which extensively quoted FFRF Staff Attorney Maddy Ziegler.

FFRF’s letter documents a long-standing pattern by Pastor Tim Thompson of using his tax-exempt church, the 412 Church Temecula Valley, and a related nonprofit, Our Watch by Tim Thompson, to endorse candidates for office. Ziegler charges that both Our Watch with Tim Thompson and 412 Church Temecula Valley “appear to regularly and repeatedly misuse their status as 501(c)(3) entities to engage in electoral fundraising and otherwise intervene in political campaigns for elected office. . . Some religious leaders would have people believe that these are special restrictions targeting only pastors, but the prohibition on electoral campaigning applies equally to all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.”

Preacher teacher halts faults
FFRF has stopped a Raleigh County (W.V.) school district teacher from continuing to foist his religion on elementary schoolchildren. Since at least 2019, a teacher at Bradley Elementary School was abusing his position to impose his personal religious beliefs onto students. The teacher reportedly began his classes with bible stories and ended them by leading students in prayer.

FFRF is pleased to have recently received an emailed response from the superintendent, who confirmed that the teacher is no longer reading bible stories or praying with students, and expressed their gratitude to FFRF for helping to end this constitutional violation.

Devilishly good result
A photo of a mini-fridge with political and religious stickers over it.

FFRF applauds the Tulare Joint Union High School District’s quick response to its complaint that a high school teacher was promoting religion in class and bullying nonreligious students.

As reported in this space last week, a teacher at Mission Oak High School in Tulare, Calif., had been using his position to promote his personal religious views. The teacher had placed several inappropriate religious and political displays and reportedly instigated a discussion with students about “666” being the “devil’s number,” which led to a student revealing their atheism. The teacher responded that an atheist is “a fool.”

After hearing from FFRF, the district “immediately addressed the issue and the stickers have been removed or covered so that they are not visible,” Superintendent Lucy Van Scyoc wrote. “The district has also spoken with the teacher about the items raised in your letter and we can assure you that the teacher understands the concerns.”

Flagging down Alito’s transgressions
FFRF has called for the resignation — or impeachment and removal — of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

The New York Times reported that the justice’s beach house on Long Beach Island displayed an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which is a symbol associated with Christian nationalism.

This news comes on the heels of the news last week that an upside-down American flag symbolizing opposition to certifying Joe Biden as president had been displayed at his home in Virginia in 2021, almost immediately after the Jan. 6 insurrection and at a time when the high court had been considering a number of cases to do with “stolen election” claims by Donald Trump. FFRF writes: “An upside-down flag flagrantly displayed political partisanship. That is bad enough. But the ‘Appeal to Heaven’ flag goes beyond that by signaling Alito’s fealty to Christian nationalist principles.”

Wooden you know it
FFRF is urging a Tennessee school district to rein in a soccer coach attempting to proselytize student athletes via a religious reading assignment.

The boys soccer coach at Hendersonville High School (Gallatin, Tenn.) assigned a book with a pervasively sectarian message to the team. The complainant reported that the coach wanted the team to read the book together.

The book in question, “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success” by former college basketball coach John Wooden (and Jay Carthy), contains frequent references to religion and faith. Particularly, Wooden’s Christian viewpoints are stressed as a factor leading to success. Every chapter concludes with a prayer. FFRF has asked the district to instruct all staff and faculty to refrain from proselytizing, including assigning books containing religious messages.

Religion agency needs less religion
An image of the seal for the united state commission on international religious freedom

FFRF has called on congressional leaders and President Biden to appoint those who reflect the religious and nonreligious makeup of the United States to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Between congressional House leaders, President Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell, five new commissioners have been added to the agency, all of whom are Christian (leaving only one non-Christian on the six-member body).

The USCIRF must have an even-handed perspective on religion to remain objective and maintain credibility in its recommendations, FFRF says, pointing out that nearly one-third of all Americans are nonreligious.

Thou shalt kill this proposal
An image of a proposed "God's Ten Commandments" stone sign

FFRF has called on a Minnesota school district to end a misguided proposal to erect a Ten Commandments display on school property.

FFRF was informed that on May 20, former board member Dennis Dodge proposed placing a display of the Ten Commandments on Park Rapids Area Schools property. If it goes forward, FFRF reminds the district that FFRF has successfully litigated Ten Commandments cases in three school districts. Comically, the sketch of the proposed display by Dodge is titled the “Ten Commandments,” while listing only nine. “The monument sends the message that school children don’t need to learn how to count,” quips FFRF Patrick O’Reily Legal Fellow Hirsh Joshi.

Dissembling about religious assembly
A facebook post

Despite an evangelist bragging about his “talk about Jesus” and “hundreds of teenagers . . . receiving prayer” during a high school assembly, an Alabama school district insists it was “not a religious assembly.” FFRF wrote to Elmore County School District advising it that the principal of Stanhope Elmore High School inappropriately permitted the religious assembly. Recovery ALIVE CEO John Eklund was allowed to deliver a mandatory “mental health seminar” where students were subjected to Christian proselytizing.

In response to FFRF’s letter, Superintendent Richard Dennis claimed that the assembly was not to promote religion, but rather that the “crux of Mr. Eklund’s address was to encourage students to seek help and therapy for any mental issues that they may experience.”

The superintendent’s claims are in stark contrast to Eklund’s Facebook post that included multiple photos of students gathered in prayer, along with an admission that he had come in to “talk about Jesus and recovery in a large public high school.”

Sex affects education legislation
Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion legislators have moved swiftly to restrict access to reproductive health care around the country, even now putting K-12 public school sex ed classes in their sights, says FFRF Action Fund, FFRF’s lobbying arm.

At least 135 bills affecting sex ed have been introduced in 2024, most of which restrict student access to objective, science-based and comprehensive sex ed. “Ironically, more legislation on sex ed would make perfect sense if the goal were to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, as those cheering the Dobbs decision disingenuously claim,” FFRF Action Fund states. “But in order to reduce the number of abortions, states would have to increase access to comprehensive sex ed. The fact that these zealots’ bills do the opposite proves that their true goal is to impose their antiquated, misogynistic religious beliefs onto the entire country.”

Debacle in the delta
The FFRF Action Fund has denounced a Louisiana bill allowing public schools to employ chaplains to counsel (proselytize) school-age children. The bill recently passed through the Louisiana Legislature and is headed to the governor’s desk where it is almost assured that Gov. Jeff Landry will sign it.

SB 123 would permit chaplains to “provide support, services, and programs for students” in public schools. Unlike the qualified counselors they might replace, the chaplains would not be required to undergo certification by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. If SB 123 is enacted into law, it would invite schools to launch headlong into costly, unwinnable lawsuits. Districts that hire chaplains to religiously counsel students during the school day can look forward to lawsuits from groups like FFRF.

Finding meaning and comfort
A graphic of a black background with tv static in the middle with the title our brief reprieve from eternal oblivion

Over on FFRF’s blog site, FreethoughtNow.org, FFRF Attorney Chris Line writes about his grandfather’s death and how that makes him, as an atheist, ponder his own limited existence.

He writes: “We find our meaning, purpose and beauty in the fleeting moments we have on this Earth. There is comfort in the knowledge that while our individual consciousness may cease to exist, we live on in the memories of those we’ve touched, as my granddad will live on in mine.”

Secularist and Theocrat of the week
A photo of Royce Duplessis with the title secularist of the week and a photo of dodie horton with the title theocrat of the week

Louisiana may soon become the first state to require the Ten Commandments to be posted in all public schools from K-12 to university. FFRF Action Fund’s “Secularist of the Week” has spoken out against the clear unconstitutional proposal, while our “Theocrat of the Week” introduced the bill and has continually perpetuated the myth that our country has religious origins.

This week’s “Theocrat of the Week” is the bill’s sponsor, Louisiana state Rep. Dodie Horton, who has said that the Ten Commandments are the “basis of all laws in Louisiana.”

Our “Secularist of the Week” was the only senator to speak in opposition of the bill’s passage. Louisiana state Sen. Royce Duplessis is a practicing Catholic who understands the need for separation of state and church. Asserts Duplessis, “You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to see that this is problematic. It flies in the face of the First Amendment.”

Oxford debate
A photo of dan barker at the debate in a tuxedo

While some will forever debate the use of the Oxford comma, FFRF Co-President Dan Barker went to Oxford to participate in a debate over whether “God is a delusion.” That’s the topic of the season finale, filmed on-location, of FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” TV show, hosted by FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Barker. Tune in online or catch it Sunday morning on television in six major cities. NOTE: “Freethought Matters” goes on summer hiatus after this show, and will return to several cities for broadcast on the first weekend of September. Over the summer, you can catch up on years of topical interviews on the “Freethought Matters Playlist on FFRF’s YouTube channel.

Listen to this
On Freethought Radio this week, FFRF Deputy Legal Director Liz Cavell prognosticates over SCOTUS’s upcoming mifepristone decision and FFRF’s Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant discusses the religious war against the LGBTQ-plus community from a personal and professional perspective.

Trans rights and misinformation

A photo of a protest with the title misinformation, trans rights, and you

This week on FFRF’s “Ask an Atheist,” FFRF’s Kat Grant and State Policy Manager Ryan Dudley discuss some of the latest findings from a study published by the Public Religion Research Institute, and the impacts of the Christian nationalist misinformation campaign on support for transgender rights.

That’s it for “This Week in FFRF” or “FFRF’s Weekly Wrap” or “What Have You Done for Me Lately, FFRF?” or “Whatever You Want to Call This Report.” Have a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend!

PJ Slinger, Freethought Today editor (filling in for FFRF Communications Director Amit Pal, who will return next week).

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