It was on this date, November 2, 1955, that the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Annie Laurie Gaylor was born in Madison, Wisconsin. She was educated in journalism at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. With her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, and John Sontarck, the three founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 1976, expanding their advocacy for reproductive rights, and incorporated FFRF in 1978. The FFRF promotes the separation of church and state and, through radio broadcasts, media appearances, print publications and podcasts, educates the public about atheism, agnosticism and religious freedom – often engaging in legal action to help cities and towns comply with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Since 1978, and with co-president and husband Dan Barker since 2004, Gaylor has worked to make the FFRF the largest organization of atheists and agnostics in the United States.Describing herself as a feminist and liberal, Gaylor edits Freethought Today, the official newspaper of the FFRF (10 times/year). She has written Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So (1981) about the treatment of women in the Bible, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children (1988), documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy and Women Without Superstition: “No Gods—No Masters” (1997), an anthology of the writings of women freethinkers. Her activism dates back to the late 1970s, when she and her mother successfully got an ultra-religious judge recalled for claiming “rape is a normal reaction,” and making other victim-blaming remarks, when sentencing three juveniles who gang-raped a teenaged girl at their Madison high school. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Medical Fund, the longest continuously-operating abortion rights charity in the nation – kind of an “underground railroad” for women needing abortion services – founded by her mother, Anne Gaylor (herself author of the book Abortion is a Blessing, 1976). Gaylor has appeared on national TV talk shows, as well as many regional and local TV and radio shows, representing the FFRF.
In response to a 2009 Seattle bus campaign, in which placards displaying the message with Santa saying, “Yes Virginia… there is no God,” were criticized, Gaylor replied, “If [Christians] are so insecure that they can’t even stand that somebody has a bus sign, a funny bus sign saying there’s no God, what does that say about their beliefs? They must have a lack of confidence…to be so angry just because there’s something saying there are atheists and agnostics in this country and here’s our view.” Pointing out that every minority group in the nation is more widely accepted now than in the 1960s, except atheists, Gaylor said in a 2009 interview timed for Christmas, “Nonreligious people in this country are scarcely tolerated. It’s considered aggressive to even tell somebody in the context of a conversation about religion that you’re an atheist.”
Perhaps overstating the percentage, on October 12, 2013 in “Opposing Views,” Gaylor noted, in response to creationist billboards saying “To all of our atheist friends: THANK GOD YOU’RE WRONG,” “A fifth of the U.S. population identifies as nonbelievers. We don’t thank a nonexistent god, we put faith in each other and human ingenuity… We believe in deeds, not creeds. We believe the only afterlife that ought to concern us is leaving our descendants a secure and pleasant future.” About the declining reticence of Americans, the most-churched nation in the developed world to self-identify as nonreligious, Gaylor said in a 2007 interview for “The Eloquent Atheist,”
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.
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.