By Amit Pal
Director of Communications
Freedom From Religion Foundation
“All politics is local.” We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation took former House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s adage to heart this past week.
That’s why we were busy countering local religious zealots. At Middleton (Wis.) High School, a stone’s throw from Madison, Christian parents have been organizing for a couple of years a weekly “Jesus Lunch” at a park adjacent to the school. The youngsters receive free lunch with an additional helping of sermons and religious tchotchkes. The lunch organizers are trying to take advantage of a legal loophole whereby the high school doesn’t have exclusive rights to the park, in contravention of the wishes of the school. Student protesters invited us to set up a booth at the park this past Tuesday. FFRF has also issued letters backing the School District’s position, and we urge you to contact the Middleton city authorities to ask them to stop this religious misuse of the park. (Check out our blog on the issue.)
But FFRF wasn’t completely circumscribed by Tip O’Neill’s wisdom, since we were also active in climes far removed from our home base of Wisconsin.
Remove the giant cross
We filed a suit in Santa Clara, Calif., this week against a giant cross in a public park. The city authorities have been promising us for years that they will get rid of the cross. Finally, we got fed up of their empty words. By the way, we also filed a lawsuit in California the week prior against the Antelope Valley School District for refusing to publicize our essay scholarships.
Changing minds (or not)…
We also filed a brief with the attorney general’s office in faraway Texas against a judge who not only insists on praying in his courtroom but also has a chaplaincy program. And the sad thing is that the state of Texas is supporting him. Oh, well, we can always hope to change some minds—even that of Texas politicians.
Speaking of minds that are hard to change, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel took on Ken Ham, he of the Kentucky creationism “museum” and ark infamy. Ham accused us of going only after Christians, an assertion Seidel gleefully destroyed.
We engaged in some celebration, too—of the freethinking women who’re now going to be on our currency bills, including feminist icons such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. It’s something to cheer, even if we’ve had to wait all these years and will have to wait a few more.
We were busy all over the country. Nearer home, we issued a press release about Chicago public charter schools that have large Catholic statues prominently displayed. Even for charter public schools and even for leased buildings, that’s a no-no, as we pointed out to the school district.
…and unwanted adults
Another letter we sent out got a quick response. David Gaskill, a Fellowship of Christian Athlete employee and an ex-felon who had free run of schools in a Florida district, was banned after we complained about him. Yay!
We got rules changed for student clubs…
We won a victory in a neighboring state. A Michigan school district tightened its rules for religious school clubs after we complained. The student religious clubs will be just that, the school district has assured us—run by and for students.
…and chaplains sacked
We also won a number of victories down South, which is always gratifying. The University of South Carolina football program got rid of its longtime chaplain after we objected, even if the coaches were reluctant to give us credit. A Texas police department nixed a biblical reference on its police uniform patches. Here, the city attorney did give credit to our complaint for compelling him to take the right stance.
So much done…
The good state of Tennessee illustrated this week how much we’ve achieved with your help—and how much further we still have to go. With the assistance of our members and allies (such as CHILD), we won a big victory there with the repeal of a religious exemption for child medical neglect. (And, of course, Gov. Bill Haslam recently vetoed the bible being made the official state book.)
…and so much more to do
But the Tennessee Statehouse has also passed a bill that will allow therapists to discriminate in their choice of clients, allowing them to show their prejudices against sexual and religious minorities. With your support, we’ll stop this one, too—and many more such outrages that we freethinkers will be encountering down the road.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.