FFRF’s Strategic Response Team gets it done
By Ryan Jayne
FFRF’s Strategic Response Team (SRT) continued its crucial work in 2022 — and is looking forward to new endeavors in 2023 and beyond.
The SRT handles FFRF’s rapid response, legislation and lobbying work. The SRT is tasked with:
• Lobbying at both the state and federal levels.
• Tracking, analyzing and educating about pending legislation.
• Providing testimony on relevant bills.
• Mobilizing FFRF’s membership with action alerts.
• Drafting regulatory comments to help educate federal administrative agencies on secular concerns.
• Responding to current events for FFRF with statements, letters and articles.
• Shaping public opinion with articles, editorials and letters to the editor.
• Stopping imminent violations and correcting the public record with letters.
The team’s federal activities are spearheaded by FFRF Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann in Washington, D.C., while FFRF Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne leads on state-level issues and regulations.
The team is excited to announce its newest full-time member, State Policy Manager Ryan Dudley. Coming on board with a wealth of legislative experience and a passion for local activism, Dudley has hit the ground running and is looking forward to a productive upcoming legislative session.
The SRT team also works closely with FFRF communications team members Amit Pal and Greg Fletcher, FFRF’s legal team and FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker.
It was a year with many accomplishments and a stage set for even greater heights moving forward.
Jan. 6 report
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and FFRF in February released a joint exposé, “Christian Nationalism and the January 6, 2021, Insurrection.”
Additionally, at year’s end, Rep. Jamie Raskin, as chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, invited Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC, to testify before Congress about the dangers of Christian nationalism, and much of her remarks were taken directly from the report co-authored with FFRF.
As consequences from the Jan. 6 attack continue to trickle out over time, SRT will be there to highlight the insurrection’s theocratic underpinnings.
From our nation’s capital, Mark Dann has been advancing FFRF’s mission with our congressional allies at a steady pace. Dann has been aided in these efforts by a stellar new intern, Caitlin Berray.
Multiple congressional offices now see FFRF as a reliable go-to organization when they are contemplating a state/church issue and need expert input. When one member of Congress wanted to take action on a report that Christian nationalist advocacy organizations were rebranding as “associations of churches,” or when another wanted to crack down on religion-based sham insurance products, they consulted with FFRF as an early step. This is the result of years of relationship-building, and allows our decades of experience to inform federal policy decisions.
FFRF has worked to advance the Congressional Freethought Caucus (CFC), where like-minded members of Congress discuss issues and priorities related to keeping our government secular and our policies evidence-based. CFC membership is at an all-time high, and includes several highly influential lawmakers who will keep these issues in the front of congressional minds.
A huge congressional achievement is the passage of the Thomas Paine Memorial Bill in less than a year. It was introduced in 2022 by Rep. Raskin, D-Md., with Rep. Victoria Sparks, R-Ind., adding bipartisan support. The project to place a long-overdue memorial to freethinker and forgotten founder Thomas Paine in Washington, D.C., received unanimous approval by the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Committee, and then passed as part of the end-of-year omnibus bill.
FFRF worked closely with the Thomas Paine Memorial Association and other allies to drum up support for this bill. After hearing FFRF’s case for a Paine memorial, the most common response was surprise that such a memorial doesn’t already exist. Passage of the legislation is just the beginning, with many D.C. hurdles to clear including the apportionment of federal land for the project. FFRF will be shepherding the process.
If this year’s overturning of Roe v. Wade taught us one thing, it’s that state laws matter. The U.S. Supreme Court has taken a “let states decide” approach to many of our most basic human rights, and so long as that is the case we must vigorously fight on that front.
Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne organized FFRF’s state-level advocacy in 2022, tracking and analyzing more than 800 bills across all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Of those, about 66 percent were bad bills, 31 percent were good bills, and 3 percent were neutral. Less than 10 percent of the tracked bills became law, including both good bills (7.8 percent) and bad bills (8.9 percent).
By far the greatest volume of bad bills are religiously based assaults on reproductive health care, LGBTQ rights and public schools. We helped to stop bills that would have placed “In God We Trust” on public buildings, allowed fundamentalist parents to ban books from public school libraries, prevented doctors from providing care for young transgender patients, and much more.
At the same time, we helped to push good bills over the finish line all over the country. They include bills creating abortion safe harbors, holding religious pseudo-insurance called “health care sharing ministries” accountable, and ensuring that menstrual products are freely available at public schools and free of sales tax elsewhere. Our New York membership also supported a great bill through the Legislature that would require judges to inform criminal defendants of secular alternative to religious 12-step programs, but sadly that bill ran into a surprising gubernatorial veto.
With Ryan Dudley joining the team, SRT is excited to meet the upcoming legislative session. We are organized and ready to mobilize all of our activists in all 50 states.
SRT on the road
Members of the team helped to promote FFRF’s mission and activities around the country at various events. An FFRF first, Mark Dann and Ryan Jayne attended a legislative summit hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. They connected with multiple new legislative allies and shared model legislation and FFRF literature with dozens more.
Jayne traveled to Des Moines to speak at a secular rally hosted by Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers. IAF were gracious hosts and the event at the state Capitol had a solid turnout, encouraging Iowans to get actively involved in secular issues while condemning discriminatory bills passed by the state Legislature, just feet from legislators’ office doors.
An increasing number of meetings and presentations are conducted virtually, which eliminates the need for travel and allows for many more attendees. One such presentation last year was put on by a coalition called Unrig the Courts, which invited FFRF to participate. Jayne spoke to a crowd of activists about the upcoming Supreme Court case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, and its First Amendment implications. In December, Jayne and Dudley hosted a webinar to equip our membership with the tools needed for effective advocates during the next legislative session.
SRT has been working behind the scenes to prepare a formal launch of a new, dedicated lobbying arm for FFRF. The FFRF Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization, will allow us to expand our lobbying efforts at both the state and federal levels, and will open new advocacy doors as well.
Don’t miss any developments with the new Action Fund: Make sure you are signed up for FFRF’s action alerts and keep your eye on your email. The entire Strategic Response Team is looking forward to this exciting new chapter in our ongoing fight to stand up for secular values and to keep state and church separate.