An Interview With Annie Laurie Gaylor

Annie Laurie Gaylor is Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) since 2004, along with Dan Barker. She was the organization’s co-founder in 1976, when she was a college student, with her mother Anne Nicol Gaylor. The FFRF now has a program on Air America Radio, “Freethought Radio,” broadcast weekly on Saturdays.  FFRF works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of Church and State; it also educates people about nontheism. Annie Laurie is also the editor of Freethought Today, the only freethought newspaper in the United States, which is published ten times yearly. She is the author of several books, including the following:

Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So  (FFRF, Inc., 1981), a reader’s guide to the bible’s treatment of women, in its fifth printing

Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children  (FFRF, Inc., 1988), the first nonfiction book exposing widespread sexual abuse of children by clergymen

Women Without Superstition: “No Gods – No Masters”  (FFRF, Inc. 1997), an anthology of women freethinkers.

The Interview

Q: Annie Laurie, thank you for graciously answering some questions for The Eloquent Atheist, when your schedule is so crowded. First, I wanted to ask you about your ad campaign, featuring the “Beware of Dogma Billboard.” (View the billboard here) What has been the public response to it?

A: The response we’ve gotten in Madison, Wis., has been very positive. It’s such a pretty sign; that helps sugarcoat controversy! It will be going up in Atlanta and a rural Pennsylvania town (the “Imagine no Religion” version) in December and that will tell us how it will fly outside our progressive city.

Q: Tell our readers something about Freethought Radio’s debut on Air America Radio, in October this year. FFRF has been advertising on Air America for quite some time (I have an XM radio, and have often heard your ads), so it seems that there must be a good “fit” between the two organizations. Did Mark Green (president of Air America) approach you about joining the line-up? How is the show doing?

A: We are very pleased that Freethought Radio has debuted nationally on Air America. We approached them as it has always been our dream at the Foundation to have a freethought radio program, to take our message to the “unmassed” masses (as our billboards will do), and TV is next.  With a controversial group of our nature, we really need a national audience in order to reach new potential members. We are hearing from lots of people around the country so that is exciting.

Q: FFRF recently lost the case regarding faith-based initiatives, heard before the Supreme Court, due to the issue of “standing”; that is, the taxpayers of the U.S. were found not to have standing in matters of their own money being funneled into religious programs by the federal government. (Read an analysis of the decision here) How did that legal decision impact the FFRF? Was there any “upside” to that loss?

A: The “upside” to Hein v FFRF was the publicity at the time of the oral arguments. We signed up 800 new members in two weeks, and heard from thousands of others, many of whom joined at that time. The downside of course is that our hands will be tied in challenging many violations of the Establishment Clause, if propounded by the executive branch rather than the legislative. There is no “upside” to that. Had O’Connor remained on the court as she was on it when we filed our challenge, we believe we won. We take some solace in the fact that FFRF had the “plurality” – four justices agreed we should have won the case, whereas the so-called majority was actually divided in their take on the case. 

Q: FFRF’s membership numbers seem to have grown substantially in recent years. In fact, nontheist/secular organizations are on an upswing. What are your thoughts about why secular organizations are growing? It does seem to indicate greater acceptance of atheism and of individuals being willing to “come out,” but is the growth somewhat dependent on negative reaction to the current administration’s pro-faith policies?

A: We think there is no question that concern over the theocratic trends in our government and nation have woken up many Americans to the dangers of remaining silent. But I think there is also a change in the air, that our nation is slowly experiencing the secularization that Europe has gone through long before our country. I call it an ‘atheist renaissance.’ Ironically, while the courts have never been more hostile to the separation of church and state, the court of public opinion is liberalizing. There have never been more people in the United States willing to make known their dissent from religion. The atheist and nonreligious bestsellers have certainly helped, and the media scent a major story, and their coverage helps as well.

Q: Lastly, in your opinion, what should be the greatest priority, for nontheists, when the current administration is retired? Is there one issue that captures your attention, and that might bring about a united action among various groups, to help rebuild the wall of separation between Church and State?

A: I remain concerned at the hemorrhage of public money flowing to “faith-based” groups. I think it will be essential for state/church separatists and freethinkers to keep up the pressure on Democratic as well as Republican officials. They have not caught up with the changing demographics, and the 14% of us who are not religious must flex more muscle, so that politicians are wooing us, not just courting the vote of the religious right. 

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