This weekend the Freedom From Religion Foundation – Denver chapter met to mail letters to Colorado school district superintendents and State Board of Education members. The letters educate school district staff about common church-state violations and how to prevent them.
Each year the national office of the Freedom From Religion Foundation addresses thousands of state-church violations around the nation, more than half of which involve public schools. FFRF attorneys have written to Colorado school districts about such violations in the past two school years.
Most recently, The Todd Becker Foundation, a Christian ministry, was scheduled to appear at a Burlington Middle School assembly on Nov. 28, 2018. FFRF sent letters to the Burlington School District and several area school districts that were scheduled to attend the event, warning them that it will involve members of the Todd Becker Foundation reading from the bible and praying with students, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
We sent the letters with an accompanying pamphlet “Top 10 Public School State/Church Violations” to help educate district staff on how to protect students’ rights of conscience.
The FFRF Metro Denver Chapter is available to answer any questions and assist in providing attorneys from our national office.
Read the letter here.
Report a State/Church violation here.
FFRF is shocked to discover a Colorado school district has explicitly and unconstitutionally consented to a religious group running an assembly and individually meeting to pray with students during school hours.
The Todd Becker Foundation, a Christian ministry, is scheduled to appear at a Burlington Middle School Assembly on Nov. 28. FFRF has sent a letter to the district asking that it cancel this religious event. In addition, it filed an open records request and received the extremely troubling agreement the district has signed with the group.
The open records request revealed that District Superintendent Tom Satterly signed the agreement openly stating that a bible verse will be included in the assembly and that members of the Todd Becker Foundation would be meeting individually with students, which will “involve them referencing a helpful Bible passage.”
Knowing that FFRF often warns schools against following through with these types of unconstitutional religious assemblies and subsequently opening themselves up to expensive legal liability, the Todd Becker Foundation included in the contract a cancellation fee of $6,215.
The Todd Becker Foundation travels throughout the Midwest putting on assemblies in public schools with the explicit purpose of converting students to its brand of evangelical Christianity. Oftentimes, it infiltrates public schools under the guise of offering a secular presentation, despite its purpose being laid out in no uncertain terms on its website.
“The Foundation’s purpose is to motivate high school students to discover their potentials and ultimately discover themselves by placing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” its website reads.
After receiving the contract from the district, which made explicitly clear The Todd Becker Foundation’s intentions with this assembly, FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line sent a follow-up to his first letter.
“This agreement should have raised many red flags and alerted you to the potential legal liability that allowing an outside religious group to proselytize to your students presents,” Line writes in his email to Satterly. “It is alarming that a public school official like yourself would not only allow this religious assembly, but also agree to provisions which prevent you from being able to stop representatives of the Todd Becker Foundation from praying and proselytizing to your students.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is doubling down on its insistence that this event be cancelled.
“This is one of the most egregious violations we have seen,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “To allow the assembly and subsequent individual proselytization meetings to occur would be in direct opposition to students’ constitutional rights.”
If any local parents are concerned about the Todd Becker Foundation’s behavior in Burlington, they are encouraged to contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation at (608) 256-8900 or by filling out a legal complaint on our national organization’s website.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 800 members in Colorado and chapters in Denver and Colorado Springs. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
We here at the Freedom From Religion Foundation were barely able to catch our breath this week.
The past weekend, we put on a grand convention in San Francisco — the highest-attended in our organization’s history, with almost 1,000 participants. Among the speakers were Salman Rushdie, Cecile Richards and many other luminaries. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor and Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, who were at the convention along with several other staffers, offer a recap on our Facebook Live “Ask An Atheist” feature. You can also listen to highlights from the gathering (excerpts of speeches by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman and actor John de Lancie, among others) on our radio show this week. In addition, the show’s main interview is with convention presenter Maryam Namazie, the England-based freethinker who is organizing a London conference later this month that Annie Laurie is appearing at.
Those of you in the Madison area can watch Dan and Annie Laurie interview for our TV show another convention attraction, actor and comedian Julia Sweeney, Sunday night at 11 p.m. on Channel 3. On the national version of “Freethought Matters,” available in eight major cities, you can get acquainted with Candace Gorham, author of The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on
Religion. Don’t worry if you miss the shows; you can always catch them on our YouTube channel.
As soon as we returned home from the convention, we had to deal with the midterm results. We welcomed them on the whole — from the election of a good bunch of freethought candidates to positive referenda results. Andrew talks pithily about the outcomes and their implications for the secular community in our “Newsbite” segment. Separately, we lauded Arizonans for rejecting the expansion of an insidious school voucher expansion program intended to primarily benefit religious schools. This flurry of activity didn’t prevent us from contacting the IRS about a Florida church (and polling site!) that engaged in blatant politicking. The church’s pastor explained that he was asking people not to vote for Democrats because he reasoned that they were “in favor of open borders, saying they oppose Christian values in the bible, which he said explains that God established borders for the Garden of Eden,” reports the Tampa paper. We find this reasoning a tad unconvincing.
With the news cycle being the way it is under the current administration, we had to respond immediately after the election results to President Trump’s appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, an even more hardline Christian nationalist than his predecessor (if that’s possible). “A man who has a ‘biblical view of justice’ is now running the Department of Justice,” Andrew warned.
Our scrutiny of national affairs didn’t keep us from neglecting the local stuff. We warned the New Yahwk City Council that a grant it recently gave to a Muslim organization is likely going to be utilized for religious purposes. And we called out an Illinois school district for allowing a ministry to use its schools for religious recruitment.From conventions and elections to city councils and school districts, we’re able to tackle the whole range of the spectrum only with your generosity and backing.
NEW LEGAL SUCCESSES
Roy Moore Sexual Abuse & Misconduct with Minors
Roy Moore Sexual Abuse — another inveterate enemy of state-church separation has been accused of sexual abuse.
In an explosive article, the Washington Post details the story of four women who accuse Roy Moore of having inappropriate sexual conduct with them while they were in their teens and he was in his 30s. Moore is currently a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama that Jeff Sessions vacated to be attorney general.
Roy Moore Sexual Abuse – a disgraced former judge who was dismissed!
Moore is the disgraced former judge who was dismissed from his position on the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to comply with and uphold the Constitution — twice. FFRF has long fought with Moore, even before he placed, and refused to remove, a two-ton granite Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building. FFRF’s Alabama chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association, sued Moore in 1995. Moore was a county judge in Gadsden, and he forced jurors to pray and displayed his handcrafted wooden Ten Commandments plaque above his bench.
The Post article details sexual misconduct that took place from 1979 through 1981. The stories of the four women share some similarities: an older man plying teenagers with alcohol, taking the girls on “dates,” and even using the prestige of his office to cultivate the relationships.
Moore’s infamy is tied to his willingness to abuse his public office to promote his personal religion. His primary loyalty as a judge was not to the law and the Constitution, but to his bible. The women’s stories reiterate Moore’s shocking disregard for public service and public office. He used his position as a district attorney to gain the trust of Nancy Wells, mother to then 14-year-old Leigh Corfman. Waiting outside a courtroom on a wooden bench, Moore approached the mother and daughter according to their retelling. Moore, whose office was down the hall, explained to the mother that she didn’t want her daughter to go into a child custody hearing, and that he, a district attorney, would watch the child. Then:
Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.
Moore also used his office to get near and select another victim, Debbie Wesson Gibson, who was 17 when Moore spoke to her high school civics class.
Moore has denied the allegations the four women are making independently of one another.
Moore’s public displays of piety will no doubt be called hypocritical, but while he is certainly a monster in many respects, Moore’s alleged sexual assaults didn’t violate any of his cherished commandments. There is no prohibition of rape or child molestation in the Ten Commandments. Neither even rates mention in the supposedly highest moral law Judeo-Christianity has to offer. There is no consent requirement for sex. Even in the rest of the bible, rape is not treated as a crime against a woman, but as a crime against the man who owns the woman.
As sex scandals continue to rock churches, Hollywood, and politics, it seems that the old rule of thumb holds true: The more publicly pious an individual is, the more likely they are to be involved in a sex scandal. Ted Haggard, Dennis Hastert, Josh Duggar, Larry Craig, and the Catholic Church are but a few examples. Roy Moore is the newest addition to this list.
FFRF Condemns assault on Women’s Rights in tax Bill
“Among the biggest wins for social conservatives is the inclusion of the words ‘unborn child’ in the legislation, “reports The New York Times“. The language is contained in an innocuous provision related to education savings vehicles — so-called 529 plans, which are state-sponsored, tax-free investment funds that allow families to put aside money for a child’s college education. The provision explicitly allows expectant parents to designate a ‘child in utero’ as a beneficiary of a 529 plan.”
On some level, the proposed proviso is meaningless, since parents already can set up such accounts for children they don’t yet have and later on transfer the funds to the child’s name. But on another, it is deeply significant. By explicitly recognizing the “unborn” in federal law, the GOP leadership is fulfilling the desire of the evangelical crowd to create a legal precedent based on the religious definition of life.
Women’s Rights — Anti-abortion forces are predictably gloating!
“It is fantastic because the unborn child is appropriately represented in the tax code,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the fervently anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, crowed to the Times. “All of these things represent a serious commitment to treating the unborn child, as she or he should be, equal and protected in the eyes of the law.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is alarmed at this underhanded tactic.
The primary organized opposition to reproductive rights in this country always has been religion, as FFRF co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor has repeatedly emphasized. Virtually every vocal opponent of contraception and abortion argues against these rights on the basis of God and the bible. In fact, the Freedom From Religion Foundation came into existence in good part because of the organized religious opposition to abortion rights. It is what opened the eyes of FFRF principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor to the dangers of dogma being enshrined in our laws.
Ever since Inauguration Day, President Trump has promised the world to the Religious Right in response to its steadfast support for his presidential campaign. And he has kept that promise multiple times — from his stringent “global gag rule” to the proposed repeal on church electioneering (the Johnson Amendment) in the same tax bill, read more about that threat. The “unborn” language is yet another sop that the Republican Party is throwing to its base.
“This new move may seem innocuous, but it’s actually quite pernicious,” says Gaylor. “All secular forces will be battling this sneaky attempt to undermine Roe v. Wade.”
The Trump administration invites constant vigilance on the part of freethinkers — and the freethought movement willingly accepts the invitation.
Support protection of Johnson Amendment
The Johnson Amendment is under fire by a very few! Please show your support for an amendment to the House’s tax reform bill that will keep dark religious dollars out of politics.
Among the promises made by Donald Trump during the campaign was repeal of the “Johnson Amendment,” the tax law provision that prohibits 501(c)(3) charities — including churches — from supporting or opposing candidates for office. The congressional tax bill is delivering that promise by weakening the amendment and opening church doors to partisan shenanigans.
Georgia Rep. John Lewis is proposing an amendment to the House bill, scratching the provision that would eviscerate the Johnson Amendment. Please contact the House Ways and Means Committee and urge it to support this amendment.
Let our simple automated system call the committee for you with a built-in script. We encourage you to add your own thoughts to personalize the message. If you have a representative on the committee, his or her name will appear on the call list as well. As a constituent of a representative on the committee, your voice is extra-important so please make that call to him or her.
(Keep reading for more information about the Johnson Amendment and the effort to repeal it.)
As part of their public trust, 501(c)(3)s file financial information with the IRS and every penny donated and spent is tracked by the government. But churches file nothing, and without the Johnson Amendment, any mega-donor could write a check to the nearest church for any amount, earmark the donation for a political campaign and take the tax write-off. Meanwhile, the church can then spend the donation on anything, including politicking. Essentially, churches would become unregulated, unaccountable super-PACs. We might even see PACs reorganizing as churches to compete for donors who would now give their donation, now tax-deductible, to churches.
During his proposal to save the Johnson Amendment, Rep. Lewis described his reaction to the effort to destroy the amendment:
“It never crossed my mind that with our notice of warning, this committee would actually consider a bill to repeal the Johnson Amendment,” he said. “It was too crazy, too unbelievable of an idea to be even possible. When I reached the end of the bill, I was shocked and appalled.”
Analysts have noted that permitting a large group of previously nonpartisan organizations to become partisan will bring much more dark money into our elections – and that money will be tax deductible.
There is massive opposition to changing this law.
Since this law came under attack, thousands have spoken out saying how important it was to them. Over 100 spiritual organizations, more than 4,200 individual religious leaders, 5,500 nonprofits (including law-enforcement groups), and nearly 100 members of Congress have signed letters detailing the damaging effects alteration of the law would have on their communities.
These changes to the Johnson Amendment are unacceptable, and must be opposed at every level. Please support Rep. Lewis’ amendment stripping this harmful provision.
“Nonbelief Relief announces timely Much-Needed Grants”
A leading freethought charity is disbursing fresh grants to fight natural and man-made catastrophes currently afflicting our world.
Nonbelief Relief, a charitable organization created by the executive board of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has announced an additional donation for hurricane-besieged Puerto Rico and new funding to aid the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Nonbelief Relief has also extended a $5,000 stipend to a Bangladeshi atheist who is stranded in Nepal with his wife and child after fleeing for his life from his native country in 2015.
Generous donations from nonreligious Americans to Nonbelief Relief in October have made possible the new $10,000 grant to Americares, earmarked for Puerto Rican relief. Additionally, Nonbelief Relief has redirected $2,500, rejected by Boca Helping Hands to aid its work after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, to Atheists of Puerto Rico, for direct aid to Hurricane Maria victims.
Nonbelief Relief this week also gave $10,000 to Doctors Without Borders, to help its ongoing efforts with the Rohingya refugees, who are suffering on a “scale that we couldn’t imagine,” according to Kate White, the medical emergency manager for Doctors Without Borders in Bangladesh.
“What is happening to the Rohingya is a result of religious persecution,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, who as FFRF’s co-president acts as administrator of Nonbelief Relief. “There should not be official or de facto national religions. In an ideal world, all governments would be secular, and religion would be an entirely private matter of conscience.”
The grants are in addition to approximately $100,00 in donations given out by Nonbelief Relief earlier this fall to secular charities, many of them providing relief to North American flooding, hurricane or earthquake victims, as well as $10,000 to the nonprofit ConPRmetidos specifically for Puerto Rico.
Nonbelief Relief is aiding a persecuted atheist teacher whose story will appear in the December issue of FFRF’s newspaper, Freethought Today. He was relocated to Nepal by Forum-Asia and has been helped by several groups, including Amnesty International, but those grants have run out. He is not considered a legal immigrant in Nepal and is trying to relocate to another country with the help of some human rights organizations.
Nonbelief Relief Inc. is a humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters to improve this world, our only world. It seeks to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice on a global scale, whether the result of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious dogma. Such relief is not limited to but includes assistance for individuals targeted for nonbelief, secular activism or blasphemy.
Your donation will make a difference by furthering Nonbelief Relief’s work, in the name of atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers. Nonbelief Relief has no overheard costs and all donations go for charitable purposes. Nonbelief Relief is a separate entity from FFRF, but donations can be given via FFRF, making your donation deductible for income-tax purposes.
FFRF files Amicus Brief against Anti-gay Cake Maker!
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed an amicus brief in the famous case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court about whether a baker can refuse a cake to a gay couple.
Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission seeks to radically redefine “religious freedom” as the right to impose one’s religious beliefs on others. Commercial businesses seeking exemptions from anti-discrimination laws are a prime example of this alarming argument. A Colorado baker refused to bake a cake for a gay marriage, contending his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment let his place of public accommodation discriminate against gay customers.
The Supreme Court has historically rejected free exercise challenges to neutral laws that regulate action, especially actions that harm other citizens. Interpreting a free exercise right to be exempted from anti-discrimination laws would have no practical limits, inviting discrimination against all protected classes not only in places of public accommodation, but many other contexts, FFRF asserts. This interpretation would also violate Establishment Clause principles by singling out religiously motivated action for special exemption from civil laws.
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others,” Thomas Jefferson remarked. “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” If one’s religion, however, mandates picking pockets and breaking legs, that conduct comes under the purview of our secular law, FFRF contends. To do as the bakery asks would grant a license to pickpockets and leg-breakers, so long as they themselves believed that license to be divinely inspired.
There is no logical or practical way to draw a line between religiously motivated racial discrimination and racial discrimination motivated by nonreligious beliefs. In the 1960s, Maurice Bessinger, refused to let a minister’s wife enter his South Carolina barbeque joint because she was black. Bob Jones, the televangelist and founder of an eponymous religious school, infamously declared that segregation was scriptural in a 1960 Easter sermon.
The state of Colorado has sought to prevent harm by including sexual orientation as a class protected by law against discrimination in places that sell goods and services to the public. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment does not mean that anyone with a religious objection be permitted to disregard this religiously neutral anti-discrimination law.
Elevating religion and actions based on religious beliefs above the law by granting them exemptions to general and neutrally applicable laws will create chaos and have far-reaching effects, FFRF maintains.
Discrimination against Jews will increase, for instance. If there is a right to refuse service to a protected class because one’s religious belief demands it, Jews may be among the first to feel the sting of this massive redefinition of the law. But they will not be the only ones.
Discrimination against atheists will increase, too. The bakery admits that its owner refuses to design custom cakes that “promote atheism,” along with those that promote “racism, or indecency.” Given that the company regards selling any wedding cake to a gay couple as “promoting gay marriage,” it’s easy to see how a desire not to “promote atheism” might similarly result in a refusal of service based on a customer’s atheism.
“The Free Exercise Clause cannot be interpreted in a way that would undermine the Establishment Clause,” FFRF’s brief states. “A ruling in the bakery’s favor would create an interpretation that prefers, favors and promotes religion over non-religion. Such a decision would undermine long-settled and critically important principles under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has never held that the Free Exercise Clause requires an exemption from neutral laws regulating conduct. It should decline to do so now and uphold the decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals, FFRF argues to the Supreme Court in its brief.
FFRF’s interest in this case arises from the fact that most of its members are atheists or nonbelievers, as are the members of the public it serves as a state/church watchdog. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization based in Madison, Wis., is the largest association of freethinkers in the United States, representing more than 29,000 atheists and agnostics, 10 percent of whom identify as LGBTQ. A ruling that state and local governments must tolerate religiously motivated discrimination in places of public accommodation would invite discrimination against atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers, severely impacting FFRF’s members and FFRF’s work to uphold freedom of conscience under the First Amendment.
FFRF’s Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert is the Counsel of Record on the brief, with principal writing by FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell, and help from FFRF attorneys Andrew Seidel, Patrick Elliott and Sam Grover.
Click here to read this and other FFRF news releases directly at FFRF’s website. Please help educate by spreading the word.