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Weekly Wrap: Religious health insurance, freethinking chaplains, theocratic AGs and pious judges

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A sign outside FFRF that reads "Preserve democracy -- Fight theocracy!"

We’ve been recently addressing an assortment of issues in a variety of forums  — dealing with one aspect or the other of religion in the public sphere.

Our legislative arm, FFRF Action Fund, has been hard at work in Congress and statehouses around the country to protect consumers from the harmful practices of health care sharing ministries, which are junk insurance entities bound together by common religious belief. Learn from FFRF Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann about all we have been doing on this front recently — and how we’ve been achieving a fair amount of success.

No ‘released time’ for public schoolchildren
Ryan Jayne, senior policy counsel for the FFRF Action Fund, submitted testimony this week to the Indiana Senate against a pending bill that would make the “released time” practice for religious study much worse by largely removing the principal’s discretion. “Public school parents have ample time to provide religious education to their children outside of school hours,” Ryan convincingly points out.

A documentary with a warning
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote for The Progressive magazine a nuanced critique of a new film warning about the ongoing theocratic takeover of the United States. “‘God & Country,’ a documentary produced by Rob Reiner that opens around the country on Feb. 16, is both frightening and gratifying at the same time,” her review begins. Read on here.

Todd Starnes keeps tabs on us
Religious right personalities keep a close eye on our constitutional victories. Todd Starnes, who was let go from Fox News for being too extreme, is all riled up at a recent win of ours in Iowa. Ironically, he provides a sort-of-accurate description of what went down (if you ignore his unnecessary editorializing).

Our protest makes the news
A photo of the Tavares City Hall
Our pushback against a deliberate insult of our Florida chapter has received media attention.

Immediately after Central Florida Freethought Community board member Joseph Richardson appeared before the Tavares City Council to deliver the opening invocation, the gathering was subjected to a Christian prayer. The area newspaper quotes from a letter to the city that FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote: “As [Tavares] Mayor [Bob] Grenier’s conduct at the meeting demonstrated, prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive.”

Idaho AG must sever theocratic alliance
We decried the Idaho attorney general’s outrageous decision to hire the Christian nationalist Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to defend the state from a Biden administration court challenge against Idaho’s abortion ban now before the U.S. Supreme Court. AG Raul Labrador may be right that ADF is well connected to the Supreme Court, but he must also realize that by partnering with a hate group, he has saddled his office’s credibility to such an entity, we warned.

An alarmingly pious judiciary
We keep a close eye on the judiciary — and this week there was plenty for us to be outraged about. A shocking Alabama Supreme Court abortion ruling citing “the wrath of God” went so far as to enshrine religious fetal personhood, clearly showing the religion-based mentality that drives anti-abortion court judgments. We also expressed alarm that the Supreme Court justice, Samuel Alito, who brought us the Dobbs decision overturning federal abortion rights is now implying that marriage equality may be next on the chopping block.

Our local activism perseveres
A photo of the prayer display. It is in cursive and reads "Lord, We thank you for this food. Bless it to the nourishment of our bodies and us to your service. Amen."
We kept up our activism at the local level. Stop converting your city council meetings into religious revivals, we asked a North Carolina town. The Monroe City Council must immediately refrain from opening its meetings with prayers, which are inevitably Christian, and other religious performances, we insisted. And we urged a Virginia school district to remove a prayer display from an elementary school cafeteria. “Displaying a prayer poster in a grade school cafeteria aimed at the youngest and most impressionable children is not only intrusive, it is unconstitutional,” Annie Laurie remarked.

Legislators who are poles apart
A photo of Jason Crow labeled "secularist of the week" and a photo of Josh Schriver labeled "Theocrat of the week"
FFRF Action Fund’s “Theocrat of the Week” title went this week to a Michigan legislator, Josh Schriver, who defends spreading a white supremacist conspiracy theory and claims, “God called me to represent him in government.” Its “Secularist of the Week” honorific was bestowed on U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, who is working to do more than just sending “thoughts and prayers” to victims of gun violence. Learn more about them and why they earned their titles.

A famous freethinking chaplain
A screenshot from freethought matters of Devin Moss
A freethinking chaplain who has become recently famous for counseling a nonbelieving death-row prisoner is interviewed on our TV show this Sunday. You can already watch the interview with Devin Moss on our YouTube channel. Or find out where you can catch it on television Sunday.

The state of statehouses

A photo of a statehouse
On the latest episode of “We Dissent,” listeners are guided through noteworthy details of the upcoming legislative sessions in states across the country. Hosts FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, FFRF Attorney Liz Cavell and American Atheists Vice President for Legal and Policy Alison Gill discuss important trends in state legislation and bills they’re monitoring that affect the separation of church and state and threaten true religious liberty for everyone.

Our Oregon brief (and the cautionary documentary)
On our Freethought Radio show this week, co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor first interview FFRF Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow Kat Grant on an amicus brief they wrote for FFRF in a case involving an Oregonian Christian who is challenging the law prohibiting her from discriminating against LGBTQ+ children for adoption. Then, Dan and Annie Laurie talk about and play many illuminating clips from the new documentary film warning against Christian nationalism (that Annie Laurie reviewed for The Progressive).

Two funerals — and their significance
In a poignant blog this week, Kat writes about two recent funerals — and their significance for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We still have the power to loudly express our opposition to laws that only serve to harm people, and to refuse to vote for the people who introduce them,” Kat concludes the column. “And we certainly still have the power to engage in our local communities, and have difficult conversations with our friends and neighbors with the end goal of creating environments that embrace the beauty of a diverse, pluralistic society.”

Why religion?
A photo of two people silhouetted on a hill. The title in cursive reads "Why religion?"
FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Walker asks a question in her most recent column that bedevils so many of us (and proceeds to answer beautifully): “Why religion?”

Why indeed. With your support, that’s why we fight constantly to diminish its role in all facets of our lives.

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