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Weekly Wrap: A constitutional victory, an Oklahoma splash, an Orlando op-ed and other endeavors

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Will Larkins

Our secular work at the Freedom From Religion Foundation continued unabated this week — and attracted a lot of notice.

We secured a constitutional win for families in a West Virginia school district whose students were subjected to a religious revival. We had filed the lawsuit against the school board on behalf of parents and students against the board over a Christian revival held last year. As part of a settlement, the board agreed to amend its policies relating to religion in schools.

“We are pleased with the result of the lawsuit and are confident that other students will not have to endure similar problems in the future,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

We’re creating a splash in Oklahoma
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We’re making news in Oklahoma for a number of reasons. State Superintendent of Education Ryan Walters is using us to score cheap political points.

“This week, Walters sent an email to teachers across the state, saying he doesn’t want districts to be ‘complicit in promoting atheism,’ adding he’s gotten word of a ‘Wisconsin-based radical secular activist organization’ demanding the removal of Bible verse signage in a public school,” reports an Oklahoma TV station. “The Wisconsin-based organization Walters is referring to is not named by him. But a Wisconsin-based organization that’s critical of Walters on the topic of religion in public schools is Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization confirms to FOX25 that they did send a letter to the Skiatook Public School Superintendent regarding the same religious decor Walters mentioned.”

On FFRF’s “Ask an Atheist” Facebook Live feature, FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line and Associate Counsel Liz Cavell discusses Walters and tried to unravel the mystery, “Killers of the Flower Moon”-style, as to why he behaves the way he does.

Thankfully, Oklahoma has some officials with a bit more sense, such as its attorney general, who has agreed with our opposition to a proposed religious charter school.

“The Oklahoma attorney general has filed a lawsuit over a controversial religious public charter school saying it violates the state and U.S. Constitutions,” reports another Oklahoma TV station. “‘The Charter School Act is pretty clear that you cannot establish a charter school with religious affiliation or religious curriculum,’ said Karen Heineman, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

It’s nice to get our voice heard.

Orlando paper published our op-ed
Oklahoma wasn’t the only state where we made some noise. Ryan Jayne, the senior policy counsel of our lobbying arm (FFRF Action Fund), had an op-ed published in the Orlando Sentinel decrying the recent massive expansion of the state’s school voucher program.

“One aspect of private school vouchers that can get lost in the debate is the fact that voucher programs are fundamentally un-American,” Ryan writes in his piece. “Forcing taxpayers to pay for religious education is contrary to the first individual right guaranteed by the First Amendment: the right to a secular government.”

Way to go, Ryan!

Our brief receives Baptist news coverage
A Baptist news organization (no kidding!) reported on the recent brief that we filed siding with Southwest Airlines against a mandated training of its lawyers with a Christian nationalist group due to a lawsuit an employee filed agains the airline.

“The judge later levied a unique sanction for three Southwest lawyers who failed to properly carry out his orders: Required attendance at ‘religious liberty training’ conducted by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group founded decades ago by James Dobson of Focus on the Family and other conservative evangelical leaders,” reports Baptist News Global. “The Freedom from Religion Foundation labeled the judge’s ‘diktat’ ‘unprecedented,’ calling it ‘highly unusual and an abuse of the court’s discretion’ and condemned the choice of ADF to lead the training, calling ADF an ‘agenda-driven’ ‘Christian nationalist’ and ‘controversial Christian advocacy’ organization.”

Book-banning school district must ban the bible
We kept at our core mission of being a watchdog on the wall of separation between state and church.

We asked that the Menomonee Falls School Board in our home state of Wisconsin ban the bible after the school district recently banned 33 books. We advised that so long as these 33 books are banned, the district must not judge the bible any differently, and it must purge all versions of the bible. The best solution, we suggested, however, is to allow a diversity of viewpoints.

Miss. schools must stop violating Constitution
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We took issue with the George County School District in Lucedale, Miss., after receiving a report of multiple First Amendment violations. The violation included a prayer during a high school graduation, a pastor delivering a devotional sermon to the football team, the Ten Commandments being displayed in classrooms and the sign above displayed in a gym.

“The district should strive to ensure that all of its events, activities, and buildings are welcoming and inclusive of all students and community members,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence admonished the district.

Huge award money to essay contest winners
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We awarded $18,050 to the 10 winners of the 2023 grad student/older student essay contest. Students were asked to write on the topic of “Is secularism the ‘savior’ of American democracy?” Congratulations to the winners!

Speaker’s ascension due to theocratic reasons
Our lobbying arm was busy reacting to the news. When Mike Johnson was elected the speaker of the House, it was ready with a statement. “The FFRF Action Fund finds the election of the new Speaker of the House of Representatives deeply troubling, particularly in the theocratic reasoning behind both the extremist faction’s pick for the current speaker and for sinking past nominees,” it said.

Trump yet again betrays the Constitution
When Donald Trump betrayed the U.S. Constitution by vowing if re-elected to ban immigrants who don’t “like our religion,” FFRF Action Fund quickly issued a response. The very notion of a former president referring to a national religion — and refusing entry to those who don’t “like” that religion — is fundamentally un-American and a betrayal of the Bill of Rights, it stressed.

Theocrat/secularist of the week
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The Action Fund named Rep. Burgess Owens its  “Theocrat of the Week” for promoting the lie that the bible was banned in 1963. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond earned the title of “Secularist of the Week” for filing a lawsuit against the state’s approval of what would be the nation’s first religious public charter school.

Secular elected officials receive space on our TV show
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FFRF’s TV show this Sunday spotlights two guests who represent the growing numbers of nonreligious elected officials around the country: Minnesota state Rep. Mike Freiberg, who co-founded the state’s new Secular Government Caucus and Leonard Presberg, founder of the Association of Secular Elected Officials. You can already watch the show on our YouTube channel. Or find out where you can catch it Sunday.

A musical radio treat
FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker discuss the harm of belief in heaven and hell with a musical bonanza that includes “Pack Up Your Sins (and Go to the Devil in Hades)” by Irving Berlin, “Preacher & the Slave” by Joe Hill and “Spooky Mormon Hell” from “The Book of Mormon.” Tune in for a song-filled extravaganza!

Crazy public school violations
The new episode of the “We Dissent” podcast, hosted by FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, FFRF Attorney Liz Cavell and American Atheists Legal Director Alison Gill, discussed the latest wild and crazy state/church violations in public schools. Listen up!

Ohio’s abortion battle
We have a diverse array of blogs for you this week.

FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Alvarez focuses on an ongoing battle for abortion in Ohio, where on the ballot Nov. 7 is a referendum that would prohibit the state from interfering in the decision to have an abortion. “Secular voters can spread the word about the abortion-rights amendment and the religious efforts to prevent its passage,” she writes.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s skepticism
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FFRF columnist Jim Haught, who is no more, sent us quite a while ago a piece on women’s rights pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s skepticism, which we used on the occasion of her death anniversary this week. “As she struggled for equal rights, Stanton often scoffed at supernaturalism and called religion a millstone around the necks of women,” Haught wrote.

Iran’s awful anti-women theocracy
Annie Laurie uses the example of the recent killing of a teenager at the hands of Iran’s security thugs to illustrate how theocracies imperil women.

“Showing hair should not be a death sentence for any girl or woman,” she concludes. “For women to have life and freedom, instead it is theocracy in so many countries that must die.”

With your support, we aim week in and week out to hasten the death of theocracy around the world.


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