There are times when a headline just grabs your attention and this story was one of those times. “Satanic book, Bible sex tracts provided in Colorado schools,” the Associated Press headline read.
On second thought, the combo of Bible and sex is not astonishing as the Old Testament gets rather explicit in some places and I’m not talking just the Song of Solomon. When God was angry at profligate Israel’s insistence on worshiping idols, He used some pretty earthly images in describing their lustful ways.
However, I’ll not be critiquing the AP this time around. I’m going to address a part of the woodwork that news organizations aren’t even considering when they write about these topics.
DENVER (AP) -- It sounds like an April Fool's joke, but it's not.
Atheists provided pamphlets on topics like sex in the Bible, problems with the Ten Commandments and a Satanic activity book to middle and high school students in a rural Colorado district Friday, the result of a fight between Delta County schools and critics over whether it should continue to let everyone from Little League organizers to the Gideons distribute literature in schools.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is behind the literature. The Madison, Wisconsin-based group got involved after a mother sought help in December from the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, which contacted the foundation.
The woman was upset about Bibles made available in schools on tables designated for pamphlet and book giveaways, and there were also complaints that students who didn't take them were bullied, said Anne Landman, founder of Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation successfully sued over a similar distribution policy in Orlando, Florida schools. In an effort to also change policy in the Delta County district, the foundation asked for permission to offer the pamphlets, which it calls "non-tracts", as well as the activity book on the same tables. Despite the name of the activity book, the Satanic theme is limited to symbols in drawings. The book, which includes word jumbles and other games, teaches kindness and "the basic morals that we all agree on", foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said.
What jumps out at me is not the school but the folks threatening the lawsuit.
Here is how to find out interesting stuff about nonprofits like this foundation. Go look up their 990s, which are tax forms all nonprofits must file showing what they do with all that donated money. I went to charitynavigator.org, created an account, searched around for their latest 990, which was for 2014, then clicked on it. (The IRS has given Freedom from Religion Foundation –FFRF- a ‘Christian/spiritual development’ designation on the 990).
You can also do the same thing at guidestar.org.
Their accountability and transparency score is high, their administrative expenses are a low 12.4 percent (helps to live in Madison, Wisc., instead of on the East Coast); their total revenue was $4.2 million, which is a respectable amount for a nonprofit. Also, their co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker each made $87,168. The two are married.
Most interesting was their life mission of filing lawsuits. From this latest 990, we learn they had 10 ongoing lawsuits at the end of 2014, two of which were new that year. They settled three others. They have five staff attorneys, a legal publicist, a legal fellow and seven interns helping to sift through 3,000 requests for help in “First Amendment violations.” They wrote 1,054 complaints ending some 210 such violations without going to court.
You can find lots of interesting gems in organizations’ 990s, and it took me all of 15-20 minutes to sift through that information. Here’s a group that exists to sue -- or threaten to -- anything they see as unconstitutionally religious.
Let me stress: I had no problem with the above AP article, which seemed even-handed. But there’s a way bigger story that I see no one doing.
That would be, who and what is the FFRF? What’s the story behind the couple that heads this group up and has been very successful at cowing everything from local governments to school boards into obeying their wishes? Few school districts can afford lawsuits, so the typical reaction is to cave in. Google “school board lawsuit FFRF” and you get a lot of results.
Now, what if a conservative group did a provocative action like the FFRF is doing?
Organizations such as the American Center for Law and Justice get dubbed the “legal arm of the Christian Right” and groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom get categorized by their “multimillion-dollar budgets.” And, yes, they do raise a lot of cash. But I’ve yet to find a news organization that’s done an investigation of the FFRF. And being that the FFRF is behind the removal of a lot of religious monuments and symbols around the country, shouldn’t someone be asking questions about them?
I am not alleging anything amiss with the organization. But, as I wrote a few days ago, when a conservative group does undercover videos, it's deemed illegal. When a more progressive cause takes to sneaking around the local poultry plant to record violence against animals, no one questions it.
Level the playing field, folks. As our own tmatt keeps saying, try looking in the mirror image.
More than 10 years ago, I did a four-part series for the Washington Times on the funding of the Religious Left, mainly because no one else was doing it at the time. I looked into who gives to the FFRF, Americans United, People for the American Way, among others. I learned about liberal funding sources such as the Tides Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Packard Foundation, George Soros, the Ford Foundation and lots more. I was amazed at how many environmental groups gave to liberal religious (or anti-religious) causes.
My research got me on the Bill O’Reilly Show for all of five minutes which goes to prove that my topic was just novel enough to interest the producers in New York. Since then, I haven’t seen media fall over themselves to touch the topic. Conservatives groups look into it and as do some bloggers but that’s it.
What I’m suggesting is some equal treatment when it comes to talking about lawsuits about religion. If the motives of one group are typically questioned -- and in the case of the ACLJ, are always linked with founder Pat Robertson -- why can’t the motives and history of the other side likely come under the magnifying glass? So that, when there is a story about a national group providing “Bible sex tracts” to local atheists, look further into what this group is.
The photo of Annie Laurie Gaylor is from the ffrf.org web site.