Texas Governor Abbott Loses Censorship Suit!

BREAKING NEWS!
FFRF WINS, TEXAS GOV. ABBOTT LOSES IN SOLSTICE CENSORSHIP SUIT

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has prevailed in federal court against Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who ordered the removal of FFRF’s winter solstice Bill of Rights Nativity from the Texas Capitol in 2015.

FFRF can Sue Governor Greg Abbott in his Personal Capacity!

In his decision, handed down late on Friday, Oct. 13, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks for the governor greg abbottWestern District of Texas – Austin Division,  ruled that Abbott violated FFRF’s free speech rights.

FFRF had placed a duly permitted display celebrating the Winter Solstice and Bill of Rights Day, in response to a Christian nativity at the Texas Capitol. The display, depicting founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty celebrating the birth of the Bill of Rights (adopted Dec. 15, 1791), had the requisite sponsorship from a Texas legislator.

Abbott, as chair of the Texas State Preservation Board, ordered FFRF’s display taken down only three days after it was erected, lambasting it as indecent, mocking and contributing to public immorality.

“Defendants have justified removal of FFRF’s exhibit by arguing the exhibit’s satirical tone rendered it offensive to some portion of the population. That is viewpoint discrimination,” writes Sparks in a 24-page ruling. The court also held that a reasonable official in Governor Abbott’s position would have known that removing FFRF’s display based on its viewpoint would violate FFRF’s First Amendment rights, thus FFRF can sue Governor Abbott in his personal capacity.

“It is ‘beyond debate’ the law prohibits viewpoint discrimination in a limited public forum,” Sparks ruled.

Judge Ruled in Favor of FFRF Deposing Governor Greg Abbott!

Sparks did not find that Abbott’s actions violated the Establishment Clause.  He also ruled in FFRF’s favor that FFRF has the right to depose the governor for one hour. Abbott had fought the request for a deposition.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor praised the ruling as a very strong decision for FFRF, for free speech and for the rights of nonbelieving citizens. “We’d rather keep divisive religious — and irreligious — views out of state capitols. But if the government creates public forums, and permits Christian  nativities in them, there must be room at the inn for the rest of us.”

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 29,000 nonreligious members. It requested the right to put up a December display at the request of some of its more than 1,200 Texas members.

The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Governor Greg Abbott, Cause No. A-16-CA-00233-SS. FFRF was represented by Attorney Richard L. Bolton with FFRF Attorney Sam Grover as co-counsel. More history about the case may be found here.

FFRF is a National watchdog for violations of our 1st Amendment, specifically involving the Separation of Church and State. If you see an violations and need help or support you can Contact FFRF National. There are also dozens of local chapters, see Local Chapters.

Freedom from Religion Metro Denver Chapter is one such very strong local chapter. FFRF Metro Denver, as well as National and most local chapters, is a non-profit 501(c)3.  The Metro Denver chapter’s mission is to participate on the local level to safeguard the constitutional provision of church/state separation, with a primary focus of educating others in the community on this critically important issue.

For tax-deductible donations see FFRF Metro Denver Chapter.  To join the Denver Chapter visit FFRF Metro Denver Membership.

Freedom of Speech and Football

O say can you kneel? Free speech and football

By Andrew L. Seidel
Director of Strategic Response
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Freedom of speech is both a constitutional right and a core American value. As a constitutional right, it means the government cannot limit your right to speak.

Obviously, private employers aren’t the government. Private organizations can regulate the speech of employees and participants. This is bad news for those receiving tips at Cold Stone Creamery and has implications for the NFL players who choose not to stand during the national anthem. It’s also bad news for two students who were humiliatingly forced off their private, Christian football team, by their pastor coach for choosing to peacefully protest during the national anthem.

The government can regulate the conduct of its employees. In fact, the Constitution requires the government to regulate employee speech while they are on the clock—under the Establishment Clause government actors may not endorse religion while representing the government. Teachers in public schools don’t have a free speech right to preach to other people’s children because they are acting as government employees and bound by that clause.

But in most cases, the government cannot put speech demands on private citizens, including students in our public schools. The recent political push to force citizens to stand during the national anthem has bled into the public schools, where kids are beginning to emulate professional athletes and are becoming more politically aware as a result.

Piety and patriotism never mix well. Religion suffocates dissent, our Constitution enshrines it. Image via Shutterstock/Igor Stevanoic. Public schools, such as Parkway High School in Bossier Parish, La., are bound by the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Speech Clauses. That means the school cannot punish a student for exercising his or her First Amendment rights, including the right to “take a knee” for the national anthem. (It’s nice to see the prayerful import of “take a knee” morph into something more secular and worthwhile.) If a school punishes such a student, it is violating the free speech clause of the U.S. Constitution. We’re looking at you, Parkway High.

The Supreme Court ruled more than 70 years ago in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that compelling a student to recite the pledge and salute the flag infringes upon a student’s First Amendment rights. The Barnette ruling was issued more than a decade before Congress divided “one nation, indivisible” by inserting “under God” into the then secular pledge. The court explained, in truly eloquent language, the limits on our government:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Damn right. FFRF attorneys regularly quote this fine prose in our complaint letters. Those letters are often sent to protect nonreligious students who don’t want to stand for a pledge to one nation, under a god that they do not believe in.

The opposition to protests during the anthem will inevitably bleed into the public schools. This threatens nonreligious students who want to sit down for their rights and opt out of the pledge. If you or your child or a friend see this happen, please report it to FFRF legal using this web form. FFRF is here to protect the rights of these brave children.

Delta high school student sues Delta County Joint School District

By  | The Denver Post 

A former Delta high school student sued the Delta County Joint School District No. 50 claiming teachers gave the A-student a failing grade and sabotaged her college applications because of her atheistic views and opposition to religious proselytizing and instruction in the public school.

Denver attorneys Jeffrey Springer and Andrew Reid filed a civil lawsuit Monday on Cidney Fisk’s behalf in U.S. District Court in Denver against the district and school officials.

Fisk is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for economic losses, emotional distress and humiliation.

District Superintendent Caryn Gibson, who was named as a defendant in the case, declined to comment about the lawsuit because the district has not been served and does not know Fisk’s allegations.

During her senior year in 2015-16, Fisk had a 4.1 grade point average, was captain of the school’s speech and debate team, student body treasurer and a reporter on the student magazine, the Delta Paw Print.

But her opposition to teachers, school board members and administrators, who she claims espoused religious views in school settings and meetings put her at odds with them, the lawsuit says. For example, school board member Kathy Svenson, a Bible camp teacher, once stated her “Christian” belief at a school board meeting that “transgender students should be castrated,” it says.

When Fisk and other students wore costumes in 2014 in opposition to state Amendment 67, which sought “personhood” status for fetuses, a teacher told her to take the costume off because “God gave babies life and abortion is murder,” the lawsuit says.

The following year, in 2015, the same teacher, called Fiske into a meeting and criticized her “attitude” for posting pictures on her private Instagram account of her wearing a school T-shirt at a school football game with hashtags including #notactuallyafan. She was told her attitude was “not suitable as a student leader.”

At the meeting, a counselor warned her that she could be removed from her student government position and lose college scholarship opportunities, the lawsuit says.

When Fisk questioned the principal and other school administrators about the legality of having a faith-based instructor speak about sex education at a mandated school assembly, she was told the religious tones would not hurt anybody, the lawsuit says.

For a decade, the school has paid Shelly Donahue, who teaches abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy, the lawsuit says. Her website says she is “passionately committed to Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer to the teen sexual activity problem in America.”

Fisk and friends wore T-shirts before the presentation that said “I prefer science,” and “I abstain from ideology.”

“Ms. Donahue’s presentation at the school was expressly and overtly faith-based, religious in content and tone,”  and lacked medically accurate information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, the lawsuit says. She told students that sex before marriage “puts you further from God” and compared girls who have premarital sex to dirty diapers, the lawsuit says.

Fisk wrote an article for The Paw Print that was critical of the presentation.

When John Miller, her government teacher, invited a Navy Seal to speak about drug abuse and his book, “Seal of God,” which mentioned his religious conversion, Fisk asked him “pointed questions about his qualifications.” Miller later reprimanded her and changed her grade from a 98 to a 70, the lawsuit says.

Fisk received death threats before and after she was quoted in an April 1, 2016, Daily Sentinel article about her opposition to a middle school program called “Donuts with Dan,” in which a teacher gave students doughnuts and Gideon Bibles. When Fisk reported the threats to the principal, nothing happened, the lawsuit says.

After the article was published, Miller dropped Fisk’s grade in his class to an F. She then spoke with Miller and the principal. Both told her repeatedly that her grade was a consequence of her comments in the newspaper. They told her if she wanted her grades to rise, she should “shut up.”

The principal barred Fisk from giving a graduation speech even though it was a school tradition that student council officers give speeches, the lawsuit says. Although her GPA qualified her for the National Honor Society program school, officials denied her that opportunity. Bad reviews by school officials also hurt her chances for scholarships and acceptance at two colleges, she claimed.

Fisk was hospitalized and suffered two anxiety attacks as a result of her experiences at school, the lawsuit says.

“Defendants retaliated upon plaintiff Fisk, threatened, punished and censored her, for expressing her opinions on religion, abortion, sex education, and drug education in an attempt to chill, deter and restrict (her) from freely expressing her opinions,” the lawsuit says.

FFRF to Texas officials: Prayer will fail Texans

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is discrediting the recklessness of Texas officials asking for prayers in the wake of Hurricane Harvey while declining legitimate aid.

In response to the catastrophe that has devastated Houston, Quebec’s Minister of International Relations Christine St-Pierre offered practical help: to send bedding, hygienic supplies and electrical equipment and crews to help the flooded city. Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos reportedly declined the aid, and asked, instead, for prayers!

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott likewise declared this upcoming Sunday to be a “day of prayer” for the state. According to media coverage, Abbott said that Texans will pray for people affected by the disaster and for those who helped. Reliance on superstition will not help the people of Texas.

As FFRF’s principal founder, Anne Nicol Gaylor put it: “Nothing fails like prayer.” It is irresponsible for Pablos to reject actual offers of assistance, and for Abbott to use his office to endorse prayer.

If prayer comforts religious people, by all means, they are free to pray. But, as President Thomas Jefferson noted in a Jan. 23, 1808, letter to Rev. Samuel Miller, it is beyond the scope of the executive branch to prescribe or even simply to recommend prayer. “Civil powers alone have been given to the president of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.” The govenor of Texas is doing precisely what the founding father and president precluded.

“The universe is full of unanswered prayers, the cemeteries are full of people who prayed to live,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Wishful thinking cannot suspend the natural laws of the universe.”

The storm — which dumped an estimated 50 inches of water on Houston, resulted in at least 38 deaths and reportedly damaged 100,000 houses in Texas and Louisiana — will perhaps be the most expensive disaster in national history. As the 19th century’s most famous freethinker, Robert Green Ingersoll put it, “The hands that help are better far than lips that pray.” That’s why Nonbelief Relief, a humanitarian charity created by the executive board of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, did not pray, but gave $10,000 to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for the separation of church and state and educates on matters relating to nontheism. It has more than 29,000 members, residing in every state of the United States including upwards of 1,200 in Texas.

Vincent J. Markovchick – Single Payer Healthcare System

Vince Markovchick’s presentation to Freedom from Religion Metro Denver Chapter members on August 19th.  Vincent J. Markovchick

Vince Markovchick, MD, is a Professor Emeritus of Emergency Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado, Denver. He is a former Director of Emergency Medicine at Denver Health, past President of the American Board of Emergency Medicine, member of Physicians for a National Healthcare Program, and President of Healthcare for All Colorado Foundation.

With the pledge of the new administration to repeal and replace Obamacare, this presentation will review the current state of our health insurance system and what impact repeal and replacement of Obamacare will have on Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance. Special attention will be paid to affordability, availability and quality of the proposed replacements of our existing insurance options.

@MarcoRubio – Silence your Bible Verses

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking Senator Marco Rubio (Fla.) to task for regularly tweeting bible verses.

Rubio uses the popular social media website, on which he has nearly three million followers, to communicate with constituents and keep them informed about his official duties as “US Senator for Florida,” as the account biography describes him.

Rubio is not tweeting “an errant bible verse or two, but more than 60 bible verses in three months. That’s enough verses to tweet the entire Book of Jude. Twice,” writes FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, also a constitutional attorney.

“We have no issue with people reading and discussing the bible,” notes Seidel, “The road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover. But it is not for the government in our secular republic to promote one religious book over others or to promote religion over nonreligion. Doing so violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.”

In anticipation of Rubio claiming that this is his personal social media account, FFRF explains why that argument fails: “The private social media accounts of people who assume government office can become accounts that appear to speak for the government, unless these officers carefully distinguish their public and private roles. The @MarcoRubio account has not been scrupulous or thorough in this regard.” FFRF documents that @MarcoRubio is tied to Rubio’s identity as a government actor, and has almost exclusively been used to keep constituents informed of “Marco Rubio the Senator, not Marco Rubio the private citizen.”

FFRF’s letter lays out a compelling case, based on copious legal precedent, that government actors are not confined to making official statements only from one platform, and that Rubio’s personal Twitter account would be perceived by readers as primarily a platform to update Rubio’s senatorial duties.

The simplest solution “is to stop tweeting bible verses or any other religious message,” FFRF suggests. Either that, or Rubio can remove all traces of his public office from the @MarcoRubio Twitter account.

Adding a little religious authority to appeal to the good senator, FFRF concludes by suggestiong that Rubio might consider rereading Matthew 6:5-6, in which Jesus condemns public displays of piety.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, has more than 29,000 members nationwide, including more than 1,400 Florida members and a chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community.

For the full news release see FFRF Rubio News Release.

God Bless America Sign Public Schools

Cherry Valley Elementary Elementary, part of Douglas County Colorado public schools, has posted a sign saying “God Bless America”. Cherry Valley Elementary Violation

Religious displays are not permitted in public schools. Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages in public schools, including crosses, the Ten Commandments, bible verses, bibles, religious figures, portraits of Jesus, etc. even if privately paid for.

Cherry Valley Elementary principal Nancy Wortmann & Superintendent Erin Kane have been contacted by the local Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Here is a link to the Top 10 School Violations.

Pancake Breakfast

January 1st, 2017 from 10-12PM is a pancake breakfast at the Secular Hub. $8 for members and $10 for non-members. Great food and fun conversation. What a great way to kick off the new year with like-minded individuals! 

Winter Solstice Celebration

December 17, 2016 from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm at the Secular HUB. The address is 3100 Downing Street #C, Denver, CO 80205

An annual celebration of the season, with the Secular Hub, Denver Atheists, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and other local secular groups.  Please bring a dish to share: hot dish, salad, dessert or something you love to make! Non-alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.

For more details see https://www.secularhub.org/event/winter-solstice-celebration-2/?instance_id=1098