Some folks may be slowing down in anticipation of the holiday season but we at the Freedom From Religion Foundation are maintaining our pace in defense of the secular Constitution.
We did take time out yesterday, on the date of the Winter Solstice, to host a party for area FFRF members, which was standing-room only, with about 110 folks filling our small auditorium in Freethought Hall in Madison. After socializing, snacks and Mimosas, attendees were treated to a solstice season concert by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker at the piano, joined by jazz vocalist Darcie Johnston, which ended with a group sing-along of freethinker Robert Burns’ song, “Auld Lang Syne.”
On to the hard news:
A successful intervention of ours in West Virginia has been covered in major state media.
“A foundation wanting to keep church and state functions separate has asked a Wood County Circuit judge to provide another option for people in drug and alcohol treatment outside of Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous due to what the group believes to be religious affiliations,” states a story in the Parkersburg, W.Va., newspaper. “The FFRF put out a press release Wednesday announcing the new modified language to ensure it is clear participants have secular options in treatment. ‘It’s so important that freedom of conscience be honored, particularly in the case of someone seeking help with addictions,’ said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.”
And other media outlets were quick to jump in, too.
“After a complaint from someone required to attend Judge Jason Wharton’s Mid-Ohio Valley Adult Drug Court, the language in the program paperwork now allows secular treatment programs,” reports a West Virginia TV station, going on to quote FFRF attorney Chris Line extensively. “Before the change was made the paperwork required all members to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous which is claimed to have religious practices. The complainant then contacted Freedom From Religion Foundation to seek other treatment programs. After it was brought to their attention the foundation made Judge Wharton aware and he worked to modify the language allowing secular nonreligious based treatment programs.”
It’s great when public officials listen to reason.
Oklahoma’s Ryan Walters will not listen to reason
Certain other officials are immune to reason, however. Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, a theocrat and Christian nationalist, claims to be introducing a rule today specifically to counter FFRF’s work to keep the state’s public schools secular. We’ll be sharing updates soon.
We convinced a Calif. school district
We persuaded a California school district to no longer permit religious fundraising in its schools. A concerned parent had reported to the state/church watchdog that Castaic Middle School was holding a fundraiser for “Three Angels Haiti,” a Christian ministry, organized and promoted by administrators and teachers at Castaic Middle School. FFRF requested that the school district end the religious fundraiser — and had an educative effect. “We’re appreciative that the district took a multitude of steps after hearing from us,” says Annie Laurie.
Our other objections to state/church entanglements
We objected to several other entanglements of state and church. We urged a North Carolina county board to rescind a proclamation seeking to advance a Christian nationalist agenda. And we demanded that an Alabama school district must stop giving churches access to its students for proselytization in exchange for snacks and water.
Our Reason Station attracts media attention
In keeping with the holiday spirit, we’ve been busy setting up seasonal secular exhibits all over the country. Some of this activity has attracted media attention.
“A ‘reason’ station in Warren has made a comeback for the first time since the pandemic,” says a piece in a leading Michigan nonprofit news outlet. “The station, manned by resident Douglas Marshall, was first set up in 2014 in response to a prayer station located in Warren City Hall. … ‘We don’t go out and seek this fight,’ Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national advocacy group that promotes the separation of church and state and supported Marshall in his fight with the city. ‘We are doing it to counter what we consider to be constitutional violations when the government gets behind, usually Christianity, by allowing one display and not others.’”
We’ve put up secular seasonal exhibits all over the country
We made our presence felt in several other places. Our display debuted in the Arkansas Capitol. Our Bill of Rights exhibit is in the Minnesota Capitol for the first time, too — countering a nearby Christian nativity scene. Our Solstice display returned to the Washington capital. Our Greater Sacramento Chapter came back to the California Capitol with a constitutional Winter Solstice exhibit. And we were proud to once again host the lighted “A” outside of our Freethought Hall offices in Madison, Wis.
Our Winter Solstice special TV show
The newly revised Winter Solstice special episode of our “Freethought Matters” TV show this Sunday features FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor providing an enjoyable cultural lesson on how Christians stole Christmas, and the pagan origins of the seasonal celebrations. The show briefly explains the state of the law over religious exhibits and concludes with Dan performing his song “Solstice Tribute.” You can already watch the show on our YouTube channel. Or find out where you can catch it Sunday.
How the Christians stole the idea of Christmas
FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Walker sheds further light on the Christians’ stealing of Christmas in her erudite column on the Winter Solstice this week. Read it to learn a lot (I certainly did).
A “War on Christmas”?
The supposed “War on Christmas” is a big deal among right-wing Christians. This week on our “Ask an Atheist” Facebook Live feature, FFRF Associate Counsel Liz Cavell talks with Staff Attorney Chris Line and Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence about the hyped-up phenomenon, including the recent history of an Idaho nativity display and the destruction of a “satanic” holiday display in Iowa.
How the Supreme Court is threatening constitutional rights
On our Freethought Radio show this week, after we report on our Solstice and Bill of Rights nativity displays, we excerpt the very funny yet hard-hitting speech by the justice correspondent for The Nation magazine, Elie Mystal (author of the book Allow Me To Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution), at our annual convention in October.
The power of the Mormon church
On the latest episode of the “We Dissent” podcast, hosts FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, FFRF Attorney Liz Cavell and American Atheists Legal Director Alison Gill were joined by Anaya Gayle — lawyer, ex-Mormon and former Brigham Young University (BYU) assistant dean. They discuss the power the church wields and life for LGBTQ-plus students at BYU, as Gayle shares her experience inside the insular LDS community. Listen up here.
Theocratic governors and a secular member of Congress
FFRF’s lobbying arm awarded U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan its FFRF Action Fund’s “Secularist of the Week” for his commendable nomination of an atheist (FFRF’s own Dan Barker) as Guest Chaplain — promoting free speech, equal rights for dissenters and religious diversity. For their ganging up against the Satanic Temple’s lawful display inside the Iowa Capitol building, the Fund is collectively branding as “Theocrats of the Week” two governors (find out which two) and an Iowa state legislator.
The importance of abortion rights
FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Alvarez urges us to do all that we can to protect abortion pills as part of protecting abortion rights.
“Abortion pills are safe and effective,” she writes. “There is no evidence-based reason to totally ban or severely restrict their access. And yet, that is just what very well may happen if the ultra-extremist Supreme Court so rules.”
FFRF is always trying its best to protect such rights (and so many more) from religion-based extremism — regardless of the season.