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Weekly Wrap: Contretemps in Okla., fruitful action and defense of our Constitution

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A screenshot of a quote tweet from FFRF that reads "The Freedom From Religion Foundation will never bow down to Christian nationalist bullies like you. FFRF will continue to fight for true religious liberty, which demands that religion is a personal matter of conscience, never part of our government." The tweet that is being quote tweeted is a video from Superintendent Ryan Walters that is captioned "People of faith will never be bullied."

The Thanksgiving holiday did not slacken our pace of striving on behalf of a secular America. Below is a recap of two weeks’ worth of activism!

Our dust-up with the Oklahoma superintendent of education
“We’ve been engaged in a tussle with Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters – a repeat offender against the separation of church and state. What got his goat this time was our successful intervention in stopping prayer broadcasts at a public elementary school, which was prominently reported in the state media.”

“Prague Public Schools won’t allow student-led prayer over the intercom at Prague Elementary School going forward, an attorney for the district has told the Freedom From Religion Foundation,” says a story in the Oklahoma City paper that quotes FFRF attorney Chris Line at length. “The Madison, Wisconsin-based foundation said Monday it had received information from an anonymous community member in Prague that the school had hosted daily prayers during its morning ‘Rise and Shine’ segment.”

Walters noticed the coverage and took major exception, denouncing us by name in a video. We quickly responded in an open letter. “The Freedom From Religion Foundation will not back down in the face of your grandstanding and (mis)use of your office to undermine Oklahoma’s secular educational system and otherwise impose your personal, pernicious Christian nationalist viewpoint on Oklahoma’s citizens,” our letter begins. Read the rest here.

Our fruitful Louisiana action
We engaged in other successful actions (with less blowback). We brought a Louisiana school district back in line with the Constitution. A concerned parent had informed us that their child’s kindergarten teacher in Lake Charles, La., had been leading the class in reciting the Lord’s Prayer every school day before lunch. After we reached out to the district, the superintendent confirmed in an email that the teacher was instructed to cease doing this.

Our defense of the Constitution continues
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We’ve been continuing our defense of the Constitution this week. We have insisted that the mayor of Puyallup, Wash., discontinue holding weekly prayer sessions inside City Hall. “This ostentatious religious practice has to stop now,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. And we are urging a California school district to keep prayer out of board meetings. “If the board continues opening its meetings with prayer it will subject the district to unnecessary liability and potential financial strain,” FFRF attorney Chris Line has written to the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified Board of Education chair. FFRF sent a letter of complaint to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee for using official government communications to preach to state employees.

FFRF announces 2024 law student essay contest with $10,000-plus prize money
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is excited to announce the 2024 Diane and Stephen Uhl Memorial Essay Competition for Law School Students, with a top prize of $4,000.

Law school students will be asked to respond to recent Supreme Court decisions that ignore the Establishment Clause by proposing language for a 28th constitutional amendment that would bring the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses back into balance.

The origins of white Christian supremacy (and a musical delight)
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We’ve been diligently using all sorts of broadcast media to spread the word. Our Sunday TV show had as its guest last week an expert pollster who in his new book excavates the roots of white Christian supremacism. Robert P. Jones, the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute is the author most recently of The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: And the Path to a Shared American Future. And on this week’s program, you can catch the first part of a two-week musical delight in the form of a performance by our Co-President Dan Barker. You can also watch these shows on our YouTube channel.

The wall of separation is still standing
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This week, “Ask an Atheist” is dedicated to proving that the separation of state and church is not dead yet. FFRF Associate Counsel Liz Cavell, Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott and Staff Attorney Chris Line discuss some of FFRF’s amazing recent court victories demonstrating this.

Freethought Radio features intrepid student activists
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On our show this week, we heard from the two brave students — Marcus Stovall and Bear Bright — who are suing West Texas A&M University for censoring their drag show fundraiser, based on religious rationale, to prevent suicide among gay youths. Last week’s Thanksgiving Freethought Radio show featured Godless Gospel performing “Let’s All Give Thanks” and showcased law Professor Mary Ziegler’s speech warning about the anti-abortion movement’s goal of fetal personhood.

Appearances on other radio shows
Dan Barker and I have been on a couple of interesting outside radio shows recently. Dan took part in a fascinating debate on the legacy of C.S. Lewis (of Narnia fame) that you can access here. And I interviewed an Italian scholar for Madison’s community radio station on the links between fascist Italy and Hindu nationalism in India. (Scroll down to “World View” in the link and press play; the interview starts at the 30-minute mark.)

The post-Thanksgiving comeback of our Ron Reagan ad
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Our Ron Reagan ad has made a post-Thanksgiving comeback to “The Daily Show.” It is playing on the program on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights for two weeks ending Dec. 7. “The commercial has gotten an amazing response through its numerous airings,” says Dan.

Battling bias in Texas
FFRF filed an amicus brief Nov. 20 on behalf of the Secular Student Alliance and in support of our two student activists (see Freethought Radio guests above) asking an appeals court to lift a Texas A&M branch campus ban on drag shows. Alas, we recently learned that the motion was denied — a most unusual response. We are planning to file a motion to reconsider.

Our lobbying arm bestows its awards
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Our lobbying arm has had its hands full, too. FFRF Action Fund conferred last week’s “Theocrat of the Week” moniker to Ohio state Rep. Beth Lear in dishonor of her theocratic plotting against the recently passed Ohio abortion amendment and named Rep. Jamie Raskin its “Secularist of the Week” for his apt rebukes of the new Christian nationalist speaker of the House.

The Fund has bestowed its most recent “Secularist of the Week” award on LeVar Burton (the beloved host of “Reading Rainbow” and “Star Trek” legend) for calling out Moms for Liberty while denouncing as “Theocrats of the Week” the conservative Christian members of a Kansas city commission for forcing a library to remove youth books on LGBTQ-plus issues.

FFRF remembers Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court’s first female justice
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Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, died this week at age 93. While the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not always agree with her rulings, we recognize that she understood the First Amendment in a way the Roberts Court has abandoned and honor her for that.

“Sandra Day O’Connor earned her spot in history as not only a strong legal mind, but also a genuine, if inconsistent, advocate for the rights of nonbelievers and others who did not share her personal beliefs,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. You can read the rest of our thoughts on her tenure and legacy here.

A variety of blogs
We put out a bunch of blogs in the past two weeks on the state of affairs from a secular perspective.
FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Alvarez gave thanks in her Thanksgiving week column for abortion access and the people who defend it. And in her somber most recent piece, she explained new data showing the impact of abortion bans — and the implications of this for increased maternal mortality.

Why you should be concerned about voting rights
FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence writes in a new blog on how a recent court decision reminds us that voting rights are a state/church issue.

“The wall of separation between state and church cannot be retained, let alone rebuilt, if states and the judiciary continue to allow the slow and steady erosion of the laws protecting citizens’ right to vote,” she concludes. “For this reason, all Americans who care about state/church separation should also care about voting rights.”

Annie Laurie’s homage to an end-of-life advocate
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Annie Laurie pays tribute in a new column to right-to-die advocate Betty Rollin, 87, the national TV correspondent who died in Switzerland using medical aid, and whose path had crossed FFRF’s. “Betty contributed so much to the world — to journalism and to better and more compassionate understanding on many controversial issues, including physician-assisted suicide — because she told the truth,” she writes.

Thanks to your support, FFRF is gearing up to end the year with ever more achievements to help ensure that reason and our secular Constitution will prevail.

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