It was nice for me to come back to our office from vacation and find the Freedom From Religion Foundation creating major buzz.
Trump’s incoherent response to us
The Trump administration’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit we filed against it for its executive order permitting church politicking got a lot of press coverage — especially its rationale.
Trump’s attorneys admitted: “The order does not exempt religious organizations from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations.”
“In essence, there’s nothing to litigate, government lawyers said,” the Washington Post reported. “The Freedom From Religion Foundation didn’t have grounds to sue in the first place, they told the court, because nothing had changed at the IRS.”
We issued a response to the Trump administration’s gambit, highlighting its incoherence.
Marco Rubio’s biblical follies
Another of our moves that’s gotten media attention has been our request to Sen. Marco Rubio to stop tweeting bible verses on a daily basis from his official account.
“We have no issue with people reading and discussing the bible. The road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover,” the Tallahassee Democrat quoted from the letter that Andrew Seidel, our director of strategic response, wrote to Rubio. “But it is not for the government in our secular republic to promote one religious book over others or to promote religion over nonreligion. Doing so violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.”
We’re still waiting to hear back from Rubio’s office.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker talks about Trump and Rubio — and more — in our pithy Newsbite segment this week.
Franklin Graham’s illegal crusade
Our swipe at another dubious public figure also got some media coverage.
“A national atheist organization made outraged threats over evangelist Franklin Graham’s call for coaches to pray publicly in defiance of the coach Kennedy trial ruling,” huffed the theocrat-apologist website Daily Caller. “The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) threatened schools with potential lawsuits and criticized Graham in a Tuesday press release in response to his Friday Facebook post calling for public support of coach Joe Kennedy. Graham urged football coaches and fans across the country to stand in solidarity with Kennedy by praying on their respective fields during Sept. 1 football games.”
(For the record, we didn’t threaten schools with lawsuits; we just warned them of the consequences of breaking the law.)
Our response to Hurricane Harvey
But we didn’t let the likes of Trump, Rubio and Graham distract us from the most pressing matter this week. We urgently sent $10,000 to Houston for disaster assistance through our charity agency, Nonbelief Relief.
“We hope this will go to immediate work, combined with many other similar donations, to help relieve some of the suffering and displacement the catastrophic flooding of Houston is wreaking,” said Nonbelief Relief Director (and FFRF Co-President) Annie Laurie Gaylor.
And when Texas officials displayed a preference for prayer over actual relief offers, we castigated them in no uncertain terms.
A more joyful instance for us to disburse money was our college essay contest this year. We handed out more than $11,000 in prize money to 18 winners of the essay competition where the more than 160 entrants wrote on the topic: “My morals do not come from God, they come from . . .” Congratulations! (You’ll read the winning excerpts in Freethought Today in the fall.)
More reasons to feel happy
We had additional reasons to feel happy when we chalked up a number of victories this week.
Due to Staff Attorney Sam Grover’s persistence, prisoners in Virginia won’t have to run the religious gauntlet anymore. After our intervention, they will no longer be subjected to religious tests of various sorts.
We also had a showily exhibited bible verse removed from an Oklahoma public elementary school. And a plaque featuring a very Christian homily was yanked from a Virginia elementary school at our behest.
Our triumphs further spur us on to challenge state/church violations. So it’s no surprise that we questioned the unconstitutional doling out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a religious ministry in the state of Washington. “Governmental funding of such a theocratic organization flies in the face of constitutional precepts,” Annie Laurie told officials.
People sometimes ask us why we go even after seemingly small violations (not that the above instance is an appropriate example). In our Ask an Atheist Facebook live feature, we explain why even such infringements matter in the bigger picture.
An anecdote from my vacation further illustrates the point. A German family friend of mine told me during my visit to Germany that in the conservative Catholic south, crucifixes are common in public school classrooms in that nominally secular nation — leading to competing demands by other religious groups. I told him that what Germany needed was an equivalent of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to halt such outrageousness. I’m not sure when Germany will get its FFRF, but I know that with your support and backing, we are able to stop an amazing amount of this sort of behavior in the United States.
P.S. On our radio show this week, we interviewed Barbara Blaine, founder of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), about her decades-long fight against the Catholic Church, and also talked about Houston, Trump and Rubio.