Freedom From Religion Foundation

Freedom From Religion Foundation
Abbreviation FFRF
Formation 1978
Type Non-profit
Legal status 501(c)3 Educational Organization
Purpose Separation of church and state, nontheism, atheism, secularism
Headquarters Madison, Wisconsin
Region served
United States
23,500 members
Key people
Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Anne Nicol Gaylor

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is an American non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin with members from all 50 states.[1] The largest national organization advocating for non-theists, FFRF promotes the separation of church and state and educates the public on matters relating to atheism, agnosticism, and nontheism. The FFRF publishes a newspaper, Freethought Today. Since 2006, the Foundation has produced the Freethought Radio show.


The FFRF was co-founded by Anne Nicol Gaylor and her daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in 1976 and was incorporated nationally in 1978.[2] The organization is supported by over 23,500 members[3] and operates from an 1855-era building in Madison, Wisconsin, that once served as a church rectory. According to the 2011 IRS tax Form-990,[4] FFRF spent just over $200,000 on legal fees and services and just under $1 million on education, outreach, publishing, broadcasting, and events. The allotment for legal fees is primarily used in cases supporting the separation of church and state that involve governmental entities. FFRF also has a paid staff of twenty two, including five full-time staff attorneys and two legal fellows.[5]

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF, is the author of Women Without Superstition: No Gods - No Masters and the nonfiction book on clergy pedophilia scandals Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children (out of print) and editor of the anthology Woe to the Women. She edited the FFRF newspaper Freethought Today until July, 2008. Her husband, Dan Barker, author of Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, "Life Driven Purpose", "God: The Most Unpleasant Character in all Fiction" and Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children, is a musician and songwriter, a former Pentecostal Christian minister, and co-president of FFRF.

In March 2011, FFRF, along with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, began The Clergy Project, a confidential on-line community that supports clergy as they leave their faith.[6][7] In 2012, it gave its first Freedom From Religion Foundation and Clergy Project "Hardship Grant" to Jerry DeWitt, a former pastor of 38 years who left the ministry to join the atheist movement.[8]

In June 2013 FFRF announced that, along with the Secular Student Alliance, it would work on educating students on their religious rights and would assist with rectifying violations.[9]

In 2015, FFRF announced a new charitable arm: NonBelief Relief, Inc. Nonbelief Relief is a humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters to improve this world, our only world. Nonbelief Relief seeks to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice on a global scale, whether the result of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious dogma.


Social programs

Social services

In June 2004, the FFRF challenged the constitutionality of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The Foundation's complaint alleged that "the use of money appropriated by Congress under Article I, section 8, to fund conferences that various executive branch agencies hold to promote President Bush's 'Faith-Based and Community Initiatives'" conflicted with the First Amendment.[10] The suit held that "the defendant officials violated the Establishment Clause by organizing national and regional conferences at which faith-based organizations allegedly "are singled out as being particularly worthy of federal funding because of their religious orientation, and the belief in God is extolled as distinguishing the claimed effectiveness of faith-based social services".[10] The FFRF also alleged that "the defendant officials 'engage in myriad activities, such as making public appearances and giving speeches, throughout the United States, intended to promote and advocate for funding for faith-based organizations."[10] The FFRF further asserted, "Congressional appropriations [are] used to support the activities of the defendants."[10][11] In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that taxpayers do not have the right to challenge the constitutionality of expenditures made by the executive branch.[12][13][14]

In May 2007, the FFRF, on behalf of Indiana taxpayers, challenged the creation of a chaplaincy pilot program for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). The FSSA hired Pastor Michael L. Latham, a Baptist minister, in 2006, at a salary of $60,000 a year. In September 2007, in response to the FFRF's suit, Indiana ended the program.[15]

Health care

In April 2003, the FFRF, on behalf of Montana residents, sued the Montana Office of Rural Health and its executive director David M. Young along with the Montana State University-Bozeman and the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative. It was alleged that Young favored faith-based nursing parish programs for state funding.[16] In October 2004, the Federal District Court for the District of Montana held that the state's "direct and preferential funding of inherently and pervasively religious parish nursing programs was undertaken for the impermissible purpose, and has the impermissible effect, of favoring and advancing the integration of religion into the provision of secular health care services." According to the court, the state funding of faith-based healthcare violated the First Amendment.[17]

In April 2006, the FFRF sued to challenge the pervasive integration of "spirituality" into health care by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Specifically stating that the practice of asking patients about their religion in spiritual assessments, the use of chaplains to treat patients, and drug and alcohol treatment programs that incorporate religion violated the separation of state and church.[18] The case was later dismissed after the Hein decision because of lack of standing.[19]


In 2001, the FFRF, on behalf of anonymous plaintiffs, sued the Rhea County School District. The plaintiffs alleged that weekly bible classes were being held for all students in the elementary schools.[20] In June 2004, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district judgment holding that it was unconstitutional for the school district to "teach the Bible as literal truth" to students, including first graders.[21]

In March 2005, the FFRF filed suit against the University of Minnesota because of its involvement with the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium, a partnership with Luther Seminary, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Fairview Health Services, stating that state taxpayer funds are helping to fund a faith-based organization. In September 2005 the University agreed to end the partnership and to cease teaching "courses on the intersection of faith and health", with the FFRF agreeing to drop its lawsuit.[22][23]

In April 2005, the FFRF filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education because of its distribution of funds to the Alaska Christian College, a Bible college run by the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska. The foundation stated that in the students' first year at the college, they take only religious-based courses, and finish that year with a Certificate of Biblical Studies. The college, the foundation says, "does not offer traditional college courses, such as math or English".[24] In October 2005 the FFRF and the U.S. Department of Education settled the lawsuit, with the Department of Education agreeing not to distribute $435,000 of federal funds to the College.[25]

Criminal justice programs

In October 2000, the FFRF brought suit, as taxpayers in the state of Wisconsin, against Faith Works located in Milwaukee. Their case stated that a faith-based addiction-treatment program should not be used as a court ordered treatment program using taxpayer funds.[26] In January 2002 the ruling was decided in the FFRF's favor; that receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money is in violation of the Establishment Clause. The judge wrote "Because I find that the Department of Workforce Development's grant to Faith Works constitutes unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination, I conclude that this funding stream violates the establishment clause."[27] On Appeal, in April 2003, The Seventh Circuit later ruled against the FFRF on the narrower issue of whether prisoners joining specific faith-based programs on their own free will are coerced by government endorsement of religion.[28]

The FFRF brought a suit against the awarding of a federal grant to MentorKids USA, a group providing mentors to children of prisoners, alleging that only Christian mentors were hired and that they were to give monthly reports on the children's religious activities.[29] In January 2005, the court vacated HHS's funding of this group citing "federal funds have been used by the MentorKids program to advance religion in violation of the Establishment Clause".[30]

In May 2006 the FFRF filed suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons alleging that its decision to fund not only multi-faith-based but also single-faith-based programs violated constitutional standards for separation of state and church.[31] The parties later agreed to a dismissal of that claim, but additional counts within the lawsuit, alleging separate violations, continued.[32][33]

Religion in the public sphere

Employment issues

In 1995 the FFRF sued the state of Wisconsin for designating Good Friday as a state legal holiday. In 1996 the federal district court ruled that Wisconsin's Good Friday holiday was indeed a First Amendment violation because the "promotion of Christianity is the primary purpose of the law."[34]

Religious displays on public property

In December 2007 the FFRF, on behalf of a group of concerned Green Bay residents and invoking the First Amendment rights of all of the city's residents, sued the city because of the placement of a nativity scene at Green Bay's city hall. Before the case was heard, the city removed the nativity scene. The judge then dismissed the suit, citing lack of jurisdiction. Since the nativity scene already was removed and a moratorium imposed on future such displays, there remained no basis for continued dispute. He went on to say, "the plaintiffs have already won. ...the Plaintiffs have won a concrete victory that changes the circumstances on the ground."[35]

In 2011 in response to the city of Warren, Michigan's refusal to remove a nativity display in the civic center, the FFRF sought to place a winter solstice display. The mayor refused the request and the FFRF brought suit. The suit was dismissed by Judge Zatkoff of the U.S. District Court; the dismissal was upheld by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court in 2013.[36]

In September 2011, the FFRF, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sued the Giles County school district on behalf of anonymous plaintiffs. A display of the Ten Commandments had been placed beside a copy of the U.S. Constitution at Giles County public schools. Prior to the suit, in January and June 2011, the FFRF and the ACLU had sent letters to the school board requesting removal of the display. The school superintendent ordered that the displays of the Ten Commandments be removed. The Giles County school board met in June 2011 and voted to overturn the superintendent's decision to remove the display.[37] After the suit was filed, the school board in 2012 agreed to remove the display and to pay attorneys' fees.[38][39]

In May 2012, the FFRF, acting on a complaint from a resident, asked the city of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, to remove a Latin cross from a World War I and II memorial on public land.[40] The city refused to do so. The FFRF states that it is currently looking for a plaintiff in the area to represent for a suit,[41] which the FFRF have yet to do, citing the difficulty with another case that occurred with another plaintiff in the state, Jessica Ahlquist, in the case Ahlquist v. Cranston.

On July 24, 2012, after receiving a letter from the FFRF, the Steubenville, Ohio, city council decided to remove the image of the Christ the King Chapel at the Franciscan University of Steubenville from its town logo.[42]

In August 2012 the FFRF, on behalf of a resident, threatened a lawsuit challenging a Latin cross that had been displayed on top of the water tower of Whiteville, Tennessee. After the FFRF wrote three initial letters, but before the lawsuit was filed, the town removed one arm of the cross.[43] The removal cost the town $4,000, and as part of the settlement the town paid $20,000 in the FFRF's attorneys fees.[44] The town also agreed never to replace the missing arm and not to place other crosses on public property.[44]

In August 2012 the FFRF, on behalf of a Montana resident, sued the United States Forest Service. A special use permit for the placement of a statue of Jesus on federal land was granted in 1954 at the request of the Knights of Columbus.[45] The Forest Service continued to grant renewals of the permit until 2010. When the Service declined to renew, the Knights declined to remove the statue citing "tradition" and the "historical" value of the statue.[46][47] After on-line protests the statue was allowed to stay and the permit granted. The FFRF filed suit in February 2012.[48] In June 2013, a federal judge found in favor of the defendants, allowing the statue to remain.[49] In August 2013, the FFRF filed an appeal of the decision.[50]

In 2012 the FFRF wrote several letters to Prudhommes Restaurant, in Columbia, Pennsylvania, explaining that offering a 10% discount to Sunday patrons who present a church bulletin is a violation of state and federal law, specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The individual who brought the matter to the FFRF's attention has filed a discrimination complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations. The FFRF is only involved in an advisory capacity.[51]

Prayer in government/schools

In October 2008, the FFRF filed suit against the U.S. government over the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer (NDoP). In 2010, Federal judge Barbara Brandriff Crabb ruled it unconstitutional as it is "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function".[52] This ruling was appealed by the U.S. government. In April 2011, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the FFRF's challenge to the NDoP, holding that the FFRF did not have standing to challenge the NDoP statute or proclamations and that only the President was injured enough to challenge the NDoP statute.[53][54]

The FFRF, in January 2013, after receiving a complaint from a resident, asked the city council of Rapid City, South Dakota, to eliminate its practice of beginning each city council meeting with a Christian prayer. After the FFRF sent a second letter in February 2013, the mayor stated at that time that prayers would continue.[55]

Internal Revenue Service

Parish exemption

The FFRF filed suit against the IRS over the parish exemption that allows "ministers of the gospel" to claim part of their salary as a tax-free housing allowance. This was originally filed in 2009, in California,[56][57] then subsequently dropped and re-filed in 2011, in Wisconsin,[58][59] because of standing. In August 2012, a federal judge stated that the suit could go forward. In August 2013, the Justice Department argued that leaders of an atheist group may qualify for the parish exemption. Gaylor states "this is not what we are after,"[60] going on to say that the government should not give religious groups any special treatment.[61]

On November 21, 2013, a federal judge ruled in the FFRF's favor.[62][63] In January 2014, the Department of Justice filed an appeal in federal court.[64] In November 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued its decision, concluding that the federal tax code provision that treats church-provided housing allowances to ministers as income tax-free must stand.[65]


In November 2012, The FFRF filed a lawsuit against the IRS for not enforcing its own electioneering laws. The FFRF cited in its suit the placement of full page ads by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; the diocese requiring priests to read a statement urging Catholics to vote; and the institution of "Pulpit Freedom Sunday". The group claimed that not enforcing the federal tax codes that prohibit tax-exempt religious organizations from electioneering is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.[66][67] The group stated that the increasing involvement of religious institutions in politics was "blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions".[68] The IRS had filed a motion to dismiss in federal court, but in August 2013 it was decided that the lawsuit could proceed stating that the FFRF "has standing to seek an order requiring the IRS to treat religious organizations no more favorably than it treats the Foundation".[69]

990 Form

In December 2012 the FFRF filed suit against the IRS for not requiring the yearly filing of a 990 Form for religious institutions, which is required for all other non-profit organizations.[70] This action is pending.

State capitol signs


In December 2013, the FFRF was permitted to hang a banner at the capital after a nativity scene was placed by a private group.[71]


On December 23, 2009, William J. Kelly, conservative activist and candidate for Illinois Comptroller, attempted to remove a FFRF sign at a holiday display.[72] The case was dismissed on several grounds, including that the lawsuit ran afoul of the First Amendment prohibition against content-based discrimination and that the plaintiff's rights had not been violated.[73]


A plaque with the same text as the Wisconsin State Capitol sign was displayed for the 2008 Christmas season at the state capitol in Olympia, Washington, next to a nativity scene.[74][75] The sign was stolen and then later found and returned to the state capitol.[76] The addition of the sign incited a large number of individuals and groups to request other additions, such as a Festivus pole,[77] a request by the Westboro Baptist Church for a sign stating "Santa Claus will take you to hell" (among other things),[78] a sign paying homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster,[78] and many others.

Front (left) and back (right) of sign displayed at the Wisconsin State Capitol. The sign in Washington displays the same message.


The FFRF maintains a sign in the Wisconsin State Capitol during the Christmas season, which reads:[79]

At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail.

There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

In 2013, a natural nativity featuring Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Mark Twain as the three wise men, the Statue of Liberty and an astronaut as angels and an African American girl baby doll to represent that "humankind was birthed in Africa" was added.[80]

Rhode Island

In 2013, the FFRF was allowed to place a sign in the rotunda, after complaints from its members, as a response to the crèches and other religious symbols that are already in place at the statehouse.[81]

Athens, Texas

In 2011 the FFRF was contacted by a local Austin citizen regarding the placement of a nativity scene on Henderson County courthouse property.[82] A letter of complaint was sent. After it was decided that the nativity scene would remain, the FFRF petitioned to have its own banner placed on the site, but county officials declined to discuss its placement. The FFRF banner was placed without permission on the courthouse property, but was soon removed.[83] In April 2012 the request to place the banner was denied.[84]

Freethought Radio

Freethought Radio, called the "only weekly Freethought radio broadcast anywhere", is an hour-long show broadcast live on WXXM-FM Saturdays at 11 a.m. CDT. It had also been broadcast on Air America before that service ceased operation in March, 2010. The show is hosted by the co-presidents of FFRF, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. Regular features include "Theocracy Alert" and "Freethinkers Almanac". The latter highlights historic freethinkers, many of whom are also songwriters. The show's intro and outro make use of John Lennon's "Imagine", which has an antireligious theme. A podcast archive is available at the FFRF website.[85]


FFRF has held conventions since 1977, one year after the group formed and one year prior to its official incorporation.[86] The 2016 convention was the 39th annual convention.[87] Previous conventions included speakers such as Christopher Hitchens,[88] awards are presented to recognize contributions to the advancement of the freethought community,[89] "NonPrayer Breakfasts" with "moments of bedlam," and piano music by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.[90]

Charitable Rating and Finances

Charity Navigator gives FFRF a four star rating and reports in 2013 FFRF had revenues of $3,878,938 USD, with a net surplus (after expenses) of $1,715,563 and net assets of $11,519,770. Officer compensation for the "co-presidents" husband and wife Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor was $88,700 and $86,500 ($175,200 combined) or approximately 10% of the net surplus.[91]

Emperor Has No Clothes Award

The Emperor Has No Clothes Award has been awarded by the Foundation since 1999 in recognition of “plain speaking" on the shortcomings of religion by public figures.

Past recipients

See also

Individual award pages


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