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Atheist Group Challenges Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives

By William Suphan     Feb 23, 2007 in World
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which was formed to challenge Government-supported religion-based laws, used to be an obscure group but is now gaining power and having a few successes.
Annie Laurie Gaylor wants to keep God out of government. She started the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the 70's in an effort to ensure an actual separation of church and state. Now this group is gaining in membership and influence and is finally making a difference.
Next week they face their toughest battle yet: the battle in the U.S. Supreme Court against tax-free Federal funding to religious groups.
"What's at stake is the right to challenge the establishment of religion by the government," Gaylor said.
This group has been victorious in stopping funding for a Milwaukee charity that Bush visited during the 2000 campaign and an Arizona group that preached to children of prisoners.
A case is being made that the White House conferences to promote the faith-based initiatives turn into unconstitutional pep rallies for religion.
Ira Lupu, a George Washington University law professor, called the foundation "by far the most aggressive litigating entity against the faith-based initiative."
"When they can prove there's religious content in those programs, they've been quite successful and they've won a few cases," Lupu said. "When they've tried to go after the initiative as a whole, they've been less successful."
They have been gaining members as they have more successes. They claim 8,500 members in 50 states, with the most coming from California, after adding a record 400 in December.
Members consider themselves freethinkers who form their opinions based on reason rather than faith.
Gaylor intends to increase membership to 10,000 through a massive advertising campaign in progressive media.
Her husband and co-president, Dan Barker, was formerly a fundamentalist Christian who turned against religion. Along with Gaylor's mother, Anne Nicole Gaylor, they founded the group in 1978 to counter religious influence in government after clashing with religious leaders over abortion.
"There was a feeling that there was almost a near religious-right takeover of our government and that we better speak up now," Gaylor said.
The American Religious Identification Survey, which was conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2001, estimated that 29 million Americans had no religion, double the number from 1990. It also estimated that 1.9 million identified themselves as atheist or agnostic.
"We've applied some very needed pressure through going to court on keeping state and church separate," said the elder Gaylor, 80. "We hope we've done some educating that will be lasting."
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