Weekly Report: We aren’t afraid of controversy

By Amit Pal
Director of Communications
Freedom From Religion Foundation

This week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation showed that it really isn’t afraid of controversy.

Two bolstering victories

Two major recent legal victories boosted our resolve. In a lawsuit of ours, a judge ruled close to midnight on Saturday that the Brevard County Board of Commissioners in Florida was wrong in denying atheistic invocations.

“A federal judge has ruled against a Florida county government’s prayer policy that bans atheist invocations from its public meetings,” the Christian Post reported. “In a decision released Saturday in Williamson v. Brevard County, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida concluded that the Brevard Board of Commissioners was unlawfully limiting who could give invocations at their meetings.”

Watch FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel and Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott discuss with me in our bite-sized Newsbite feature FFRF’s recent successes in Brevard County and Lehigh County, Pa. We interviewed Patrick and David Williamson, head of our Florida affiliate, on our radio show about the triumphs.

And equally dramatically, on Friday afternoon we obtained a win in our long-running parsonage case that challenges tax benefits for “ministers of the gospel,” commonly known as the “parsonage exemption,” allowing ministers to deduct housing costs from their taxable income. (Watch for the press release on our website.)

These two victories bolstered our spirits and made us ready to take on pretty much anything.

Taking on Trump

So when President Trump issued a bunch of invidious executive orders on Friday, we were ready. The initial set essentially overturned the Obama administration’s women contraception mandate.

“As it has for millennia, religion is being used to oppress women,” noted FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Employers have no business sticking their noses into intimate health decisions by women workers. It’s outrageous.”

Trump’s other executive order was equally disgraceful. It unveiled a series of theocratic interpretations of “religious liberty protections” that will unleash legal chaos and discrimination, we warned. “Today’s events are chilling,” we wrote.

Blasting an out-there guv

And if we could tackle the president of the United States, then what’s a mere governor? We blasted Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin for asking students to bring bibles to class.

“The Freedom from Religion Foundation is sounding the alarm on the governor taking a public stand,” reported the Louisville ABC affiliate. It then went on to publish our press release in its entirety. Thanks, guys!

“Religious freedom” and the Second Amendment

After this, there was nothing stopping us from wading into contentious policy debates. What could be more controversial in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting than the Second Amendment?

Andrew and fellow FFRF attorney Sam Grover penned a hard-hitting blog pointing out the similarities between “religious freedom” and Second Amendment absolutists.

“The reason common-sense, data-driven gun laws cannot make it through Congress is because the idea that Second Amendment rights are absolute has been deliberately foisted on American legislatures and courts,” they wrote. “‘Religious freedom’ advocates are working to achieve the same sleight of hand with the First Amendment and their claimed right to act on their religious beliefs.”

Supporting students’ freedom

We weren’t hesitant to comment on another burning issue of the day, too. We issued a joint letter and press release with five other secular organizations expressing our support for the freedom of students in responding to the national anthem. And Andrew wrote a blog expressing his views on the subject.

“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,” he stated. “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.”

A disgraceful U.N. vote

International affairs also drew our attention. When the United States voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution condemning the use of the death penalty for “blasphemy,” “apostasy,” and supposed sexual crimes, we strongly denounced it.

“The United States stood with the theocrats, the zealots and the mob in its U.N. vote,” we said. “The Trump administration has embarrassed our country.”

Along the way, we were able to obtain a victory for the First Amendment in Georgia and draw media attention toward our objection to an overtly Christian halftime performance.

Not bad for a week’s worth of work, huh?

Whether it is the Trump administration or the United Nations, guns or the national anthem, we aren’t afraid to take a plunge — and we are able to do it all only because of you.

 

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