Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In memoriam: Bob Tiernan fought several cases for FFRF

Vol. 36 No. 05 June/July 2019

FFRF is saddened to report the death of attorney and longtime FFRF Member Robert Reitano “Bob” Tiernan, 85, on April 25 in Paducah, Ky.

He was born on Nov. 1, 1933, in Norwood, N.Y. to Albert and Grace Reitano Tiernan. He graduated from Black River High School in New York, LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and Boston College School of Law. The day after he graduated from law school, he was drafted into the Army and served two years at Fort Dix, N.J. Shortly after being discharged from the Army, he went to work as an advance man on John F. Kennedy’s campaign. He then spent 20 years practicing law at the firm of Keller & Heckman in Washington, D.C., and later specialized in constitutional law in Denver. His life was rocked by the death of his younger son, Timmy, in 1983, in an automobile accident. Following Timmy’s death, he spent three years successfully promoting the mandatory installation of airbags in all cars.

Bob was past president of the Denver chapter of FFRF and was FFRF’s Freethinker of the Year in 2001. He fought several important legal challenges for FFRF. He was able to end a 53-year violation involving a major taxpayer subsidy of an annual Easter service in the Denver area and also defended pro bono a freethinker accused of “blasphemy” for removing a religious cross illegally placed in a public right-of-way.

“When people question my dedication to the principle of church-state separation, I tell them it must have been the most important liberty in the minds of the Founding Fathers because they chose to lead off the very First Amendment with the Establishment Clause,” Bob said in his award acceptance speech at FFRF’s 2001 convention. “It’s a shame that the judicial system, and especially the current U.S. Supreme Court, has tinkered so much with these words because the admonition is simple — there shall be no establishment of religion. The idea of ‘accommodating’ religion, which is the current rage with the judiciary, absolutely contradicts this clear and simple language and demeans our Constitution.”

Following Bob’s death, Bob’s daughter Amy Tiernan Ulness wrote “Random Thoughts About My Dad.”

“The first 20 years of his legal career were as a partner at the Washington, D.C., firm of Keller & Heckman,” she writes. “His final years were spent arguing separation of church and state cases for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Cases he worked on challenged the placement of religious monuments on public grounds, ‘In God we Trust’ on money, and religious roadside memorials on public highways. FFRF named him 2001 Freethinker of the Year, which I thought was ironic considering how opinionated he was.”

She continued: “A few years ago, my brother Robert and I visited and he was delighted. Dad was weak and frail, barely ate, and mostly slept. His last words and thoughts were of how he wished he had done more with us kids. Wished he had read more to me. Had come to my softball games. Had helped me with my homework. Had been a better and more encouraging father. Nothing to do with his time spent with JFK, or arguing important cases, or the material stuff he’d had. His thoughts and regrets were about family and loved ones. During that week, he taught me that jobs, money, houses, material stuff and fluff comes and goes, but the people of your heart are what matter in the end. They should matter more before the end.”

Bob is survived by his life partner Julie Wells; his daughter Amy and her two children; his son Robert R. Tiernan Jr.; his brother and sister-in-law Kenneth and Margaret Tiernan.