We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation have been feeling a tremendous sense of achievement.
We had an extremely successful convention here in Madison the past weekend. There was a gala line-up of star speakers. And there were several other treats, such as the first-ever legislative panel at a convention, a freethinking “Godless Gospel” singing group and even a couple of billboards we set up in Madison to welcome convention-goers. You can watch the highlights on our Facebook Live “Ask an Atheist” program this week uploaded on our YouTube channel, where you can also find some of the convention speeches and panels up already, with more to come.
Our appeals court brief sided with Southwest Airlines
We filed an appeals court amicus brief against a district judge’s order compelling Southwest Airlines attorneys to attend “religious liberty training” by the Christian nationalist Alliance Defending Freedom. We entreatied the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: “This court must reverse the order by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and rule that the district court abused its discretion by ordering Southwest’s attorneys to attend religious liberty training conducted by a controversial Christian advocacy organization.” FFRF Attorney Sam Grover is the counsel of record for this brief while Sammi Lawrence, FFRF’s Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow, was the brief’s primary drafter.
We’ve helped set up a secular studies professorship
We proudly announced a pioneering professorship in secular studies at a home state university — only the third such professorship in the nation. The Brian F. Bolton and Anne Nicol Gaylor Endowed Professorship in Secular Studies of $500,000 is being set up at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “We’re grateful to Brian Bolton for seeding secular studies at a University of Wisconsin system university, and for generously suggesting the professorship be in both his and Anne Nicol Gaylor’s name,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
Okla. state superintendent doesn’t like us
We took on the Oklahoma superintendent of education — or, rather, he took us on.
“State Superintendent Ryan Walters remains unwavering in his commitment to safeguarding the right to religious expression in schools, even as controversy swirls around his recent actions,” an Oklahoma TV station reported. “The controversy escalated Thursday with a second incident, as Walters criticized the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit. The foundation is an educational nonprofit with over 40,000 members nationwide including hundreds in Oklahoma. Its website says it works to keep religion out of government and to educate the public about ‘nontheism.’”
“He accused the organization of threatening the Skiatook and Latta public school districts with lawsuits for practicing ‘freedom of religion,’” the story goes on. “‘I will always fight for their ability to express their beliefs” said Walters. ‘I will not allow these radical left-wing groups to step into our state and try and intimidate them.’”
As we posted on social media: “We’re not backing down.”
Washington Post reports on our lawsuit
Speaking of Oklahoma, the Washington Post recently provided lengthy coverage to a lawsuit that we have filed with other secular-minded groups against a proposed virtual religious charter school in that state.
“A state board in Oklahoma on Monday approved a contract with St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School, bringing the institution one step closer to becoming the first publicly-funded religious charter school in the nation,” the Post has reported, “The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 for the contract, despite opposition from the state’s attorney general and a lawsuit that seeks to stop the school from opening. The plaintiffs — represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Education Law Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation — said the state would be forcing taxpayers to subsidize the Catholic Church’s mission of evangelization.”
A few nice victories for us
We’ve obtained a couple of sweet victories recently. We convinced the Symmes Valley Local School District in Ohio to no longer broadcast prayers over the loudspeaker at future football games. The district acted quickly after we contacted it — and we appreciated the district’s cooperative attitude in resolving the matter. We also successfully persuaded the Jackson County School District in Mississippi to reprimand a teacher and update staff training after a middle school teacher placed “prayer cards” under students’ desks.
“This teacher deserved an ‘F’ for presenting her vulnerable young students with prayer cards in their first week of school,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Our public schools exist to educate, not to indoctrinate children in the religious faith of their teachers.”
Several students benefit from our scholarships
We proudly announced a few scholarships over the past couple of weeks. We awarded $17,400 to the winners of the 2023 college student essay contest, who wrote on the topic of “What I would tell Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene about the harm of Christian nationalism.” This is one of five essay competitions annually sponsored by FFRF, awarding more than $80,000 to student essayists in total. Congratulations to the winners of the Kenneth Proulx Memorial Essay Competition for Ongoing College Students! And a bunch of nonreligious students (whose achievements you can read about here, including three students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities) earned FFRF cash awards through the Secular Student Alliance.
Our ‘secularist/theocrat of the week’
Our lobbying arm spotlighted (as it does pretty much every week) a secularist and a theocrat who caught its attention. The FFRF Action Fund named U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer our “Secularist of the Week” for accurately labeling crisis pregnancy centers as “brainwashing cult clinics.” And Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz earned the title of “Theocrat of the Week” for shamefully invoking the bible in opposing climate change mitigation.
“I’m thrilled to see a member of Congress calling out the deceptive practices of crisis pregnancy centers,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Action Fund president. “These centers have caused so much harm. On the other hand, it’s maddening to witness the impediment of real progress stifled by a member of a state legislature who chooses words from a fictional book over actual science.”
Our fascinating TV show guests
We had a couple of fascinating guests on our TV show the past two weeks. Jon Ward, the chief national correspondent at Yahoo! News, had a lot of insights to offer about the evangelical movement, since he grew up in it and has written a recent account of his childhood. This week’s interview subject, award-winning journalist and author Christine Kenneally, has made visible widespread child abuse in religious orphanages with a new book on the subject. You can already watch these shows on our YouTube channel. Or find out here where you can watch the Kenneally interview on television Sunday.
A range of radio delights
We have a diverse array of radio offerings for your palate. In a recent Freethought Radio show, co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor energetically demolish the Ten Commandments, both as moral guides and as an influence on U.S. law. The highlight of the show this week is the segment that has three eloquent 18-year-old college students reading their winning essays at our convention. And for Madison’s community radio station, I interviewed an activist and playwright who has fought the horrible practice of caste in Hinduism.
Honoring the Indigenous and warning about abortion rights
We’ve sent out a bunch of great columns in the past few weeks.
FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Alvarez honored Indigenous Peoples Day on the occasion of Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas, encouraging readers to acknowledge this country’s indigenous presence by taking a number of steps. And she explained why Florida’s abortion initiative, on the ballot next month, is in peril.
A dubious prize and Edison’s skepticism
FFRF columnist Jim Haught died a few months ago, but he left behind an almost unbelievably rich lode of pieces for us. In the column we used last week, he dissected a dubious prize that aims to validate religion by bestowing a monetary award sum bigger than the amount for the individual Nobels. And in the most recent one, he explained how Thomas Alva Edison, America’s supreme inventor, was also a whimsical skeptic who laughed at supernatural beliefs.
Whew! We were able to accomplish so much over the past some days only because of your unstinting support.