Dr. David Eller was the speaker at our chapter meeting on Saturday, April 20, 2019. The subject of his presentation was agnomancy. Agnomancy is the conjuring of ignorance. Read his presentation here.
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.
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 Western 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.