The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., recently sent a letter to Catoosa County Schools demanding that activities with religious connections cease.
It’s not the first time FFRF has contacted schools and other government entities in the area to object to what it considers unconstitutional practices. Catoosa County Schools have been contacted about baptisms that took place on school grounds after a football game and about cheerleaders holding up signs with Bible verses on them. Most recently, the complaint was about students helping to make crosses for Ringgold’s Festival of Flags and helping raise funds to build a school in Nicaragua.
Walker County Schools have been contacted about a teacher singing Christian songs and about prayer led by teachers and warned not to trust lawyers who contacted them and offered to represent them without cost. The Catoosa County Fire Department was contacted about a cross that stood near Fire Station 3.
FFRF is a 39-year-old organization with 30,000 members, 6,000 of whom it gained this year. The purposes of the organization, according to its web site, are to "promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism."
The group has a Georgia chapter consisting of 500 members. On its web page (on FFRF’s website), it describes itself this way: "We are a non-religious community of local people committed to living our lives free from superstition, dogma and mysticism. . . .
"Living in the current "Christian Frenzy" era, that has been gaining popularity by leaps and bounds since the mid-1950’s, accelerated by 9/11, we must be ever more vigilant about Christian Fundamentalism working hard to dominate the political arena at all levels. . . .
"The reason we formed this chapter is to support eyes and ears on the ground for separation issues. We locally organize and educate the public, submit letters to the editor, news releases, deliver legally savvy communication to our local government agencies, including one-on-one encounters, as appropriate, by our members, and legally taking appropriate action to preserve our rights when necessary."
FFRF lists its primary activities as publishing a free-thought newspaper, radio programs and online information, promoting online forums, conducting essay contests and conventions, promoting "freedom from religion" books, literature and music, and placing billboards and bus signs supporting its beliefs.
Billboards read, among other things, "Imagine No Religion," "Beware of Dogma," "Praise Darwin, Evolve Beyond Belief," and "Sleep in on Sundays," all designed to look like stained glass windows. Another sports a picture of Santa Claus and reads, "Yes, Virginia… there is no God."
FFRF conducts an annual "Nothing Fails Like Prayer" contest that awards "secularists" who ask for time to offer up invocations at government meetings.
A "DeBaptismal Certificate" is available on FFRF’s site for people who are unhappy about having been baptized as infants or children. Also available are "nontracts" with titles like "What’s Wrong with the Ten Commandments," "Heathen’s Greetings: The True Meaning of the Season," and "Cookie Cutter Christs."
Books promoted on FFRF’s web site include "Abortion is a Blessing," "Writing God’s Obituary," "The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God," and the popular novel "The Handmaid’s Tale" by Margaret Atwood. There are also T-shirts, bumper stickers, magnets and water bottles with various sayings on them.
And there’s atheist music for sale, much of it humorous but also sharp-edged and written by FFRF co-president and former-minister Dan Barker. One CD is titled "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist."
FFRF funds a "Nonbelief Relief charity." The charity’s 2016 financial disclosure statement says it donated $209,000 that year to various causes, including $50,000 toward what it lists as blogger relief donations, another $51,500 to help 11 Bangladesh bloggers, $25,000 to Women's Medical Fund, and $20,000 to Doctors Without Borders. $10,000 each went to World Food Program USA, National Center for Victims of Crime, Foundation Beyond Belief, and Livingston Parish Public Schools.
Some things FFRF lists as accomplishments are "halting a government chaplaincy to minister to state workers, winning a legal challenge ending 51 years of illegal bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton, Tennessee) public schools, winning a federal court decision overturning a law declaring Good Friday a state holiday, ending commencement prayers at a Top Ten university, and halting religious postal cancellations."
FFRF has introduced 85 First Amendment lawsuits in its nearly 40 years of existence and maintains a list of them on its web site. In addition to filing lawsuits, FFRF sends letters of "legal complaint" to government entities it feels are violating the separation of church/religion and state. In 2017, the group sent 956 complaint letters, about half of them to public schools.