MADISON, Wis. – Just exactly what does the Freedom From Religion Foundation stand for … or against?
On the surface, its mission seems reasonable enough.
The cover page of the group’s website says it’s main objective is “protecting the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state.”
In pursuit of that goal, the FFRF sends letters to local governments and public schools throughout the U.S., challenging what it considers infringements of the separation of church and state. It doesn’t want pictures of Jesus on the walls of schools, or mottos like “In God We Trust” painted on police cars.
Sometimes the organization files lawsuits to try to enforce its beliefs.
Some may agree with the group’s positions, others may not, but the legal arguments are legitimate points of contention in a democratic society.
A staff attorney for the FFRF also says the group exists to “help educate the public on what it is to be a non-believer” in God. In other words, it acts as an advocate for a group of people with a specific set of beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.
Consider an ad the organization recently produced featuring Ron Reagan, the son of the late President Ronald Reagan.
During the video, Reagan makes a statement about his concern over the role that religion plays in American government and asks viewers to support FFRF. But then he ends his remarks with a sign-off which can only be described as provocative:
“Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
The ad got play on Comedy Central, but was rejected by CBS due to its “words and tone,” according to the New York Times.
This alone raises the suspicion that the The Freedom From Religion Foundation is more than just pro-constitution. It makes one wonder if the group is anti-religion, particularly anti-Christian, and generally intolerant in nature.
If that were the case, could the members of FFRF be considered “haters?”
One FFRF staffer rejects that idea.
“We have two purposes – defending the constitution and helping people understand nontheism,” FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel told EAGnews. “That doesn’t make us anti-Christian. We try to educate the public on what it is to be a non-believer.”
When asked about the Reagan ad, Seidel said it’s been “very effective, but it’s certainly not hate speech. I agree that it will offend many Christians, but only because they are used to being privileged in this country and never having their faith challenged.”
Is it a goal of FFRF to challenge Christianity or other religions, particularly with mocking and derisive language? Can’t the group defend the constitution and advocate for atheists without attempting to belittle religious people, most noticeably Christians?
Can’t the FFRF folks just make their points, then live and let live?
Apparently not, according to Seidel.
“Being critical of a bad idea like hell and barbaric torture, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “One thing that’s really effective in getting people to recognize religious prejudices is to challenge them. I know it’s caused a big stir, but look at what (Reagan) is saying. All he’s saying is that he’s not afraid of the eternal punishment.”
Really? Or is Reagan mocking the very idea that there is an eternal punishment, just to poke fun at Christians and what he considers to be their backward beliefs?
As Seidel went on to say about the ad, “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is mocking. Jefferson said the only way to combat an unintelligible proposition is through ridicule. There is value in pointing out the ridiculousness of religious belief.”
In fact the FFRF attacks religious belief all the time, to the point where one wonders if members would really prefer “freedom from religion” at all.
If that goal were achieved, what would they have to rant about? The ranting never seems to end.
When you call the FFRF office in Madison, Wisconsin, and spend time on hold, you get to hear a song, written to the tune of the Christian folk song “The Battle of Jericho,” but with new lyrics penned by FFRF co-founder Dan Barker, according to the New York Times.
The lyrics say, “I’ve heard about your hero Joshua who’s not so great. But there’s none like Thomas Jefferson and his battle between church and state.”
When Pope John Paul II visited the U.S. in 1987, the FFRF produced a radio spot that played on several large metropolitan stations, with an original song called “Stay Away Pope Polka.” The lyrics went like this: “Pope, Pope stay away, don’t come back some other day, it’s worse than a sin that we have to pay, to hear you preach against the American way.”
The FFRF’s current website includes a page featuring dozens of members of its honorary board. And of course the group couldn’t list the members without mentioning some verbal potshots those people have taken at religion in general, or Christianity specifically.
For example, the website points out that honorary board member Richard Dawkins wrote, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
It notes that honorary board member Julia Sweeney said, “How dare the religious use the term ‘born again.’ That truly describes freethinkers who’ve thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
It notes that honorary board member Robert Sapolsky suggested that the FFRF put up a sign at its conventions saying, “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
Another troubling example of the anti-religious attitude was a recent “call to action” from FFRF, asking members to respond to a journalist from the American Association of Retired People, who dared to write an article about prayer.
AARP magazine editor Robert Love wrote the following passage: “I learned that prayer is a primal human instinct that crosses faiths and cultures, and extends even to those who don’t believe in a personal God. We older Americans are a prayerful people.”
FFRF members responded by clobbering the poor man, as if he had violated some law or moral code by expressing his views on prayer. Here are just three of the dozens of published comments:
“What were you thinking? I don’t know about primal, but your statements about prayer strike me as primitive and poppycock. While I have not prayed for about 65 years, I have talked to myself on occasions, such as when I read your ludicrous statement in support of supernatural thinking. I said, ‘Don, are you hallucinating. Did he really write that?’”
“Is it your goal to reposition AARP as a faith-based seniors organization? I ask that you give equal time in the next issue to reason, critical thinking, freethought and science, and apologize for insulting the good sense of so many AARP readers.”
“I am a senior citizen, age 81, and I have two longstanding beliefs in regard to prayer and religion: ‘Nothing fails like prayer’ (Unknown), and ‘Religion is the worst disease of mankind. (Ayn Rand).'”
Was that mass attack really necessary? Couldn’t Love be left alone to believe what he wants to believe? Was the constitution made safer, or the rights of atheists more secured, by attacking his thoughts on prayer?
All of the above is enough to make one wonder if Matthew Clark, an attorney for the American Center for Liberty and Justice, was right when he said the following about FFRF:
“They have an agenda, to eradicate every vestige of Christian heritage from our society. Anything that has any semblance of our Judeo-Christian heritage, they will attack.”