The Freedom From Religion Foundation just planted a couple of victory flags at the top of the Mountain State as part of a busy and productive week for the state/church watchdog.
Lordy, lordy look who’s not gonna be praying anymore
On Tuesday, it was announced that FFRF and two of its members have won a federal court challenge against a West Virginia city that opens its city council meetings with the Lord’s Prayer.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. issued a 30-page decision in FFRF’s favor that declared the city of Parkersburg’s practice unconstitutional, and awarded each plaintiff nominal damages, and allows the plaintiffs to seek attorney fees.
The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over West Virginia, had previously struck down Christian prayers recited by county commissioners. The opinion by Copenhaver concludes under that analysis: “[T]he City Council wrapped itself in a single faith.”
Judge closes the book on ‘Bible in the Schools’ classes
FFRF started off the week with some good news on Monday when its long-running FFRF lawsuit against a West Virginia school district challenging bible classes was finally settled.
FFRF filed the federal case in 2017 on behalf of Elizabeth Deal and her daughter to stop Mercer County Schools from continuing to teach “Bible in the Schools” classes to elementary school students. The bible classes had been ongoing for more than 75 years despite Supreme Court precedent banning public schools from undertaking religious instruction.
U.S. District Judge David Faber dismissed the lawsuit and the Mercer County Board of Education, through its insurance coverage, agreed to pay $225,000 to cover the costs and attorneys’ fees of the plaintiffs. Those payments will reimburse two private law firms and FFRF for hundreds of hours of time spent by attorneys litigating the case.
Listen up! All-women legal podcast debuts
On Wednesday, four attorneys from three major secular organizations debuted the only legal affairs podcast for atheists, agnostics and humanists hosted completely by women lawyers.
On the “We Dissent” podcast, the four women discuss religious liberty in federal and state courts and the work they do to keep religion and government separate. The co-hosts are Rebecca S. Markert, legal director at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Elizabeth Cavell, associate counsel at FFRF, Alison Gill, vice president for legal and policy at American Atheists, and Monica Miller, legal director and senior counsel at the American Humanist Association. The podcast began taping episodes in January, so there’ll be a few more dropping on Wednesdays for the next couple of weeks, but then it’ll be once a month starting in June.
Sticker shock: FFRF sends decals to Kansas city
FFRF has mailed decals boasting America’s original motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” to the city of Haven, Kan., to counter “In God We Trust” stickers on its police cars.
On May 2, the city council did the right thing by asking the local police department to remove those decals from vehicles. (It also voted to stop using its official Facebook page to promote Christianity.) Unfortunately, the council immediately caved to a backlash and reversed course, allowing the godly decals to remain on the vehicles — with the condition that similar messages supporting other beliefs would also be allowed.
Thus, FFRF has mailed its attractive decal featuring the original secular motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of many, [come] one”), which celebrates diversity and pluralism, not religious orthodoxy.
Buffalo racial massacre tied to Christian nationalism
FFRF deplores the Buffalo racial massacre by a young man who appears to be a white Christian nationalist motivated by the “replacement theory.”
The 18-year-old shooter outlined his racist ideology in a long statement averring that the United States belongs only to white people.
The document attributed to the shooter called everyone else “replacers” who should be eliminated by force or terror. His document said the attack was intended to intimidate all nonwhite, non-Christian people and get them to leave the country. FFRF called on all public officials to denounce “replacement theory.”
Oklahoma governor’s abortion views not OK
In a letter to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, FFRF calls for him to either honor the secular Constitution or resign after using religious reasons to justify his near-total abortion ban.
SB 1503 is an abortion ban that does not contain an exception for pregnancies that results from rape or incest. In an interview, Stitt defended this, saying “God has a special plan for every single life.”
Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, in the letter to the governor, wrote: “If you were serious about your oath of office, to uphold the U.S. Constitution and its separation between religion and government, you would set your personal religious beliefs aside and do what was in the best interest of all Oklahomans, rather than sacrificing the health and autonomy of pregnant Oklahomans in order to advance your crusade of turning every pregnancy into a birth.”
And to make matters worse, on Thursday, Oklahoma lawmakers passed House Bill 4327, which bans abortion at conception, except in rarest cases. It deputizes private citizens to enforce the law. As such, ordinary individuals can sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion.
“We are losing before our very eyes the right of women to control their own reproductive destinies to this ruthless religious crusade led by Christian extremists in our legislatures and courts,” comments Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
Student earns FFRF ‘Strong Backbone’ activist award
FFRF is pleased to bestow a South Dakota high school student with its $1,000 student activist award for her objections to her school board starting its meetings with Christian prayer.
Shaye Beardsley, a senior at Stevens High School, has been granted the “Strong Backbone Student Activist Award” after she spoke up at the April 5 meeting of the Rapid City Area Schools board against its recent practice of inviting clergy to pray at meetings.
At that meeting, Beardsley spoke up on behalf of herself, as well as several other students, including a Christian student who said it was not only unconstitutional but unkind to force the religion on those who don’t practice Christianity. With a flourish, Beardsley ended her short testimony by adding, “Almost all of these people can vote in the next election.”
Alvarez: Abortion is an atheist issue
In her blog posted on Monday, Barbara Alvarez notes that all abortion restrictions are religiously motivated.
“I have yet to hear arguments in favor of abortion restrictions that are rooted in evidence and rigorous research. And that should concern all atheists — even those who are against abortion. If religious factions can twist scientific words and concepts to push their own agenda for anti-reproductive health laws, it can certainly happen to other complex issues. That is totally counter to living in a secular society.”
Alvarez, who previously held the role as FFRF’s inaugural Anne Nicol Gaylor Reproductive Rights Intern, continues as a contributing writer.
Let your voice be heard!
FFRF also contacted all its members on Monday with an Action Alert urging you to contact your state legislators to keep abortion safe and legal. Those of you in the 26 states where abortion will immediately become illegal due to “trigger” laws or pre-Roe criminal laws on the books received a special email informing you of your state’s bad laws and talking points to repeal them. We hope you are utilizing FFRF’s Action Alerts to flex our secular muscle. It takes just a moment to ensure your voice is heard.
FFRF’s TV show features “This Is Us” and “Castle” actor
Tune in this Sunday (or watch online) to see acclaimed actor and nontheist Jon Huertas as the guest on FFRF’s “Freethought Matters” TV show this Sunday.
Huertas has starred as Miguel Rivas on NBC’s critically praised award-winning series “This Is Us.” Audiences also know him as the tough but affable detective Javier Esposito on ABC’s hit dramedy “Castle” and from “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
The final show of the spring season (before “Freethought Matters” takes its hiatus) next week is a special on-location chat with sculptor Zenos Frudakis in his Pennsylvania studio.
‘Ask an Atheist’ discusses leaked memo
Check out FFRF’s “Ask an Atheist” program this week with FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert and FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor discussing “Five things to know about the leaked draft to overturn Roe V. Wade.” You just might learn something!
A look inside Oprah’s TV series about a Black megachurch
Check out James A. Haught’s blog post regarding the Oprah Winfrey TV series “Greenleaf” about a Black megachurch. Haught says the series “’shows the best and worst of Christianity,’ but I can’t find much best, only worst.”
Hear, hear! Listen to Freethought Radio!
On Freethought Radio this week, we speak with Professor Samuel L. Perry about his new book (with co-author Philip Gorski), The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy, and about white Christian nationalism involved in the Buffalo massacre. We also discuss the two West Virginia federal court victories, talk about Justice Alito’s leaked abortion decision and hear from actor Jon Huertas on why he is a nontheist.
Whew! It’s been a busy week here at the FFRF, but that’s what we’re here for — to fight for your rights. Thank you for being a member. Have a wonderful weekend!