MADISON, Wis. (WJHL) – After a national organization filed to remove three crosses erected on Elizabethton city land, local residents were left with several questions as to the origin of the group and why they chose their town.
So what, exactly, is the Freedom From Religion Foundation?
In the organization’s own words, “[t]he Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church.”
That separation was initially accepted in 1791 with the state ratification of the United States Bill of Rights, stating in its first amendment to the Constitution that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[.]”
This addition, alongside those protecting freedom of speech, assembly and petition, was set down as a cornerstone to American law, civics and daily life. For the FFRF, their outlined goal is to enforce the first clause of the First Amendment: which for them means pursuing freedom of and from religion.
The Wisconsin non-profit was incorporated as Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. in 1978 and is now helmed by married public atheist figures Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Gaylor has served as FFRF’s co-president since 2004 after an activist career for feminist causes since she was 14 years old, the FFRF says. Gaylor spent three decades on the board of the Women’s Medical Fund, a Wisconsin nonprofit that says it “provides financial assistance to people in Wisconsin who need abortions and cannot afford the full cost.”
Barker preached for 19 years, according to his site bio, before leaving the ministry and publicly announcing his atheism. Barker has spoken on national television programs multiple times, including The Daily Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America. Barker has also written several books on atheism in America and hosted debates on college campuses.
The organization itself touts several court victories in First Amendment cases, including removing mandatory school prayers, preventing the use of public funds for religious organizations and removing religious imagery from government buildings.
The Tri-Cities have become acquainted with the organization after it renewed calls to remove three crosses from city property in Elizabethton. The complaint originated in 2018 when the FFRF says a resident in the area brought it to the organization’s attention.