Art, activism and Friday the 13th

Art, activism and Friday the 13th April 13, 2018

Amit Pal
Director of Communications
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Who says that art and activism don’t go together? We had proof this week at the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the two, indeed, can be combined gracefully.

On Tuesday evening at our Freethought Hall headquarters here in downtown Madison, Wis., we had freethinking piano prodigy Jarred Dunn put on a recital, on the FFRF Steinway grand piano gifted by Diane Uhl, combining a live performance with a studio recording. Jarred is quite the wunderkind, a young man who has won international competitions and made a name for himself in Europe (he’s based in Poland) and the United States. Jarred was interviewed in our studio here at Freethought Hall by FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker (an accomplished pianist himself) and Annie Laurie Gaylor for our “Freethought Matters” TV show, which you will be able to watch soon.

You can listen to Jarred’s virtuosic playing of Chopin and Debussy on our current radio show. In addition, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott talks about an intriguing case we’ve filed in Kentucky on behalf of a member’s atheistic license plate, and FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel discusses our organization’s strategies and two blogs of national significance that he recently wrote. (More on Andrew’s pieces a bit below.)

This Sunday night at 11 p.m. on Channel 3 in the Madison area or Monday afternoon onward on our YouTube channel, you can watch Dan and Annie Laurie interview activist and writer (and my friend and ex-boss) Matt Rothschild for “Freethought Matters” TV show. Our interview last week with scientist, author and freethinker Jerry Coyne, who visited our office recently, is already posted on that site.

A distinguished guest at our November convention
At our annual convention in November, we are expecting a distinguished guest. Ensaf Haidar, the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and an activist in her own right, will be receiving our second annual Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award of $10,000 at our get-together in San Francisco. Shortly before Badawi was imprisoned (to be sentenced to up to 1,000 lashes for “apostasy”!), Haidar fled with their children to Quebec. She has established the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom to spread progressive values in the Middle East and work for Badawi’s release, and will be speaking about her courageous activism. Hope to see you in the Golden Gate City later this year! Haidar will be joining many other impressive speakers, including Salman Rushdie.

Pruitt and the White House pastor run into a buzz saw…
The two Seidel blogs mentioned earlier are due to our ever-vigilant gaze on national developments. EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been in the news for ethical violations, and Andrew explains why this may be linked with his disdain for the First Amendment. “If a government official is willing to abuse his or her power for one reason, it only makes sense that the person would abuse it otherwise,” Andrew explains, and then lists other folks (such as Texas AG Bill Paxton) for whom this seems to be true.

Andrew also wrote an open letter to the pastor who is organizing regular White House bible study sessions, decrying him for his hypocrisy. (FFRF has sued Ben Carson’s Housing and Urban Development for access to records pertaining to the biblical sessions.)

Watch Andrew briefly explain his blogs and motivations for writing them on our “Newsbite” segment.

A misinforming biblical tour
Andrew went along with Dan and Annie Laurie to the misinforming and recently opened Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. It was quite a tour (and a ride) for them while they spotted the inaccuracies, and the three have fun detailing all the misinformation on our Facebook Live “Ask an Atheist” feature.

Counseling school districts
In the midst of all this, we carried on our regular work. We successfully counseled an Illinois school district to get on the constitutionally correct path by stopping staff involvement at a religious (“See You At the Pole”) event at a public school. “We have taken steps to ensure the school will not publicize this type of event in the future,” the district superintendent wrote us.

Glad to be of service!

Relying on your power
We also relied on your power, as always. We urged you to contact your U.S. senators to oppose a misnamed theocrat-minded bill that would weaken the First Amendment. And we asked those of our members living in Tennessee, Illinois, and Louisiana to thwart bad bills circulating in their statehouses.

A Friday the 13th to celebrate!
It may have occurred to you that today is Friday the 13th, but unlike Christians, it’s not a day we fear. In fact, this Friday the 13th is a day for us to celebrate, since it’s the birthday of secular icons Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Hitchens (and FFRF’s Editorial Assistant Molly Hanson).

With your help and backing, we’re carrying on their freethinking legacy.

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