The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is a non-profit national membership organization whose stated goals are “to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.” It is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and was founded by Annie Laurie Gaylor, a third-generation freethinker (atheist) who co-founded FFRF with her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, in 1976. Today Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor (they married in 1987) are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio.
In recent years, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has become well-known for its efforts to stop religious activities or remove expressions of religion from public institutions. The FFRF has been involved in legal actions to end prayers at high school graduations and football games, remove Bible verses at local school events, and ban similar expressions of faith.
Such legal action is typically based on what the Freedom From Religion Foundation calls the Jeffersonian “wall of separation between church and state.” Of course, the idea of separation of church and state is actually not part of the U. S. Constitution. Rather, the First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This limits Congress from passing certain laws, but it also ensures the religious freedom of U. S. citizens. The Bill of Rights seems to be in direct opposition to the mission of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, emphasizing as it does freedom “of” religion rather than freedom “from” religion.
The signers of the Constitution were concerned with the abuses of a state church and took steps to prohibit the enshrinement of an official state religion in law. But they had no fear of religious expression in the public square. The majority of the Constitution’s signers claimed to be devout Christians and affirmed Christian beliefs. Thomas Jefferson himself originally emphasized the separation of church and state due to his desire to protect religious liberty from an overreaching government.
Christians in the United States have sometimes been put in difficult situations due to the actions of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. For example, a local school that wants to include a graduation prayer could face a lawsuit or other legal action. Local Christians then must determine how important the issue is to their faith and religious liberty.
The Bible offers examples of believers who faced legal opposition to their faith, millennia before the origin of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Daniel prayed despite the king’s edict and the threat of death in a den of lions. Peter and John were beaten and commanded not to preach in Jesus’ name, yet they continued to spread the gospel. The apostle Paul was arrested on multiple occasions for teaching Jesus was the Messiah. The suppression of truth is nothing new (Romans 1:18). Christians still face difficult decisions and sometimes persecution today because of their expressions of faith. Even so, Jesus says, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).