Many ups and downs here at FFRF

By Amitabh Pal
Communications Director
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Boy oh boy, have there been ups and downs recently here at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

First, the very good news.

We prevailed in the federal lawsuit we had filed last year suing a Pennsylvania county for a prominent cross in its seal and flag. In a begrudging decision against Lehigh County, U.S. District Judge Edward Smith conceded that “a reasonable observer would perceive the county seal as endorsing Christianity.” We are thrilled that reason and the Constitution have prevailed.

We applauded when Saudi women finally, albeit extremely belatedly, won the right to drive.

“Women (along with menfolk who don’t stand in the way) will now better be able to slowly but surely steer Saudi Arabia into the Enlightenment era,” I wrote. “That’s why the lifting of the driving ban is reason for a (muted) cheer.”

Talking of a cheerer-upper, get a load of this:

“A rabbi, an atheist and a Hobby Lobby defender walk into a bar. OK, not a bar. Even better, they walk onto a stage so an audience of people can watch them argue about the future of religious freedom in America.”



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That’s the creative opening of a media story on FFRF Co-President Dan Barker’s Thursday debate at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. (You’ll have to read the piece all the way to the end to see if there’s a punch line.)

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Dan was quite busy debating this week. On Tuesday, he was pitted against creationist Andy McIntosh at San Diego State University to argue whether “Atheism Makes Sense of Reality.” (Spoiler Alert: Yes, it does.)
There were other delights.
We delightedly provided a Pledge of Allegiance tutorial to an Indiana school district. After our educative lesson, the district agreed to remove a display from a local elementary school that featured, above the American flag and the entire Pledge, the words “one nation UNDER GOD.”“I appreciate you bringing this poster to our attention,” the superintendent replied. “As a public school, we do not want to promote any kind of religious message. The poster in question has been altered to remove the words ‘UNDER GOD.’“Glad to be of help.We’re still basking in the afterglow of our successful convention that concluded here in Madison, Wis., last week. You can view a fun musical montage of the event here. Our Ask An Atheist Facebook live feature also displays the highlights.

But there have been other events weighing heavily on our minds.

We’ve been anguished about Puerto Rico. That’s why we established contact with a Puerto Rican relief group to make sure that it received the $10,000 we had pledged last week through NonBelief Relief, a humanitarian agency FFRF has created. And we announced a fresh grant of $10,000 to Team Rubicon, which sends out military veterans as first responders in the aftermath of natural disasters. Those grants mean that we have disbursed $118,000 just since August through Nonbelief Relief. Watch FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor talk about our efforts in our bite-sized Newsbite segment. Please help us replenish our coffers.

We also mourned the loss of a remarkable colleague. Barbara Blaine was an activist for survivors of priest abuse and a survivor herself who founded SNAP. Annie Laurie pays tribute.

“My condolences to her bereaving family,” Annie Laurie concludes the piece. “The rest of us must step up our resistance against the cover-up of Catholic crimes and demand accountability in Barbara Blaine’s memory.”

Even in the midst of these ups and downs, we kept our eye on the ball.

Our Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel wrote a couple of persuasive blogs contending that churches should not be eligible for federal disaster recovery money.

“Religious freedom demands that churches and other houses of worship should not have access to federal funding to repair or rebuild their structures,” he stated in one. “It may seem heartless or unfair or even unequal, but it’s not. In fact, this is a bedrock principle, not only of American law, but also of religious freedom.”

Andrew also wrote an open letter to educate an Alabama attorney general candidate on constitutional basics. “A person who wishes to be the attorney general of his or her state should understand the law — especially its most basic points, such as freedom of religion and separation between state and church,” he asserted.

There must be something in the water nationwide that these attorney general types imbibe. We had to send out a letter to the Louisiana attorney general (this time the actual officeholder) in response to his statement that he wants to put prayer back in schools.

“These remarks show either a disturbing ignorance of the U.S. Constitution or a deliberate attempt to subvert the protections it contains,” it states. “Either way, Louisiana deserves more from its chief law enforcement officer.”

And we were busy attempting to set other people right, too — from a recalcitrant football coach in Alabama to an errant city in Delaware.

We issued national action alerts to stop the misuse of FEMA money and to thwart an egregious anti-choice bill introduced in Congress.

The one member alert we want to especially draw your attention to, however, is regarding International Blasphemy Rights Day — a day to promote freedom of belief, thought and expression. The day is observed on Sept. 30, which is tomorrow. Let’s persuade Congress to pass a bill to attempt to get such laws repealed globally and stand in solidarity with religious minorities, “nones” and dissidents abroad who are persecuted. Then, we all can truly celebrate!

P.S. On our radio show this week, we memorialize Barbara Blaine, talk about the lifting of the Saudi women driving ban and interview FFRF member Marianne Arini about how she survived a Christian fundamentalist education based on Bob Jones University workbooks.

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