FFRF further expands mission to disability rights, seen as a church-state issue involving “Christian nationalist ideology”

November 17, 2022 • 9:30 am

Five days ago I wrote about the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) signing onto an amicus brief in an appeal arguing that a 10-year-old transsexual girl (taking puberty blockers) be allowed to play on her school’s girls’ softball team.  The initial case denied that girl the right to play based on an Indiana state law barring transgender females from student sports teams. Now I have no issue with fighting for a girl that young to be able to play, but the serious problem was that the appeal was trying to overturn the law in general, not just give one young student an athletic right.

In other words, the FFRF was supporting the right of transgender girls and adolescents to play on any public school sports team, even if they were medically untreated or had gone through puberty. Not only is that unfair to women and girls in general (it would spell the end of fair competition in sports up through grade 12), but it’s way outside the remit of the FFRF, which is dedicated to keeping church and state separate, as well as mitigating the harms of religion in American society.  A few of us brought this to the attention of the FFRF, who defended their participation because opposing transgender issues is a religious issue, though not one of the main goals of the FFRF.

I’ll preface this post, which shows the FFRF expanding into realms even more far removed from church-state issues, with the way I began my previous post:

I’ve always been a fan of and a member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). I am on their Honorary Board of Directors, and in 2011 received their “Emperor Has No Clothes Award”, which as they say is “reserved for public figures who take on the fabled role of the little child in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and ‘tell it like it is’—about religion.” I’ve was very honored with their recognition, and humbled to be added to the many people I admire who have also gotten the gold statue of the naked emperor—a statue made by the same company that makes the Oscars.

Lately, however, the FFRF has crept out of its bailiwick of enforcing separation of church from state, and is, like the ACLU and the SPLC, engaged in matters of social justice. Well, that’s their call, and I wouldn’t beef about it unless I thought they’ve undertaken campaigns that are unwise.

This time, the FFRF is making a push for disability rights. While I’m in favor of disability rights, I don’t see them as connected in any way with the separation of church and state. This latest move, on top of the unwise support for transsexual girls participating in public school sports (especially when they’re post pubescent), shows that the organization is expanding into the realm of social justice, just as the ACLU and SPLC has. In general, I see such an expansion as unwise, especially when it involves misguided stands like those about transgender women athletes.

On to the FFRF’s latest remit. One of my favorite paper magazines/newsletters is the FFRF’s  monthly publication Freethought Today, which is now online. And if you go to pages 2 and 3 of the latest issue, you’ll find two long articles on disability rights and “ableism”: “More discussion needed about ableism, disability” and “Disability rights in post-Roe America.” The second one—the author is Sammi Lawrence—covers a whole page, begins by making a tenuous connection between disability rights and church-state issues. Emphasis below is mine, but notice how she bundles disability rights together with Christian nationalist ideology:

Disability rights are a state/church issue.

While America’s conscience has not consistently recognized this, there are clear ties between the Christian nationalist ideology that pervades legislation and the ongoing reality of stagnant and inadequate disability rights laws. The dangerous theocratic Christian ideology that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned is the same ideology that continues to play a part in the oppression of the 61 million disabled adults across the United States. This ideology has guided both harmful disability rights policy and the dismantling of abortion rights. To put it simply, if you care about disability rights, then you also care about the separation of state and church

It goes on, analogizing disability rights with abortion as issues of “bodily autonomy”, issues supposedly a plank of Christian nationalism:

Ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the issue of bodily autonomy has remained at the forefront of people’s minds. Bodily autonomy is the simple concept that individuals should have the right to control what does and does not happen to their bodies. The Christian worldview is often one in which an individual’s bodily autonomy is subject to debate and compromise whenever that autonomy conflicts in any way with Christian ideology. Too often, the individual whose bodily autonomy is up for discussion is not even invited to the debate, let alone given a seat at the metaphorical table. Those who are anti-choice view a person’s body, typically a woman’s body, as the conduit for something “greater,” a vessel that is subject to a god’s will, whether that will be an unwanted pregnancy or a disability.

The author continues with a long defense of rights for the disabled, mentioning from time to time their connection with religion:

The first [aspect of what Lawrence calls the “Christian model of diability”] is that disability is a punishment from God or exists as a means through which God may display his alleged greatness. To provide but a few examples:

“And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)

And, my personal favorite, in the book of John, Jesus heals a blind man who was born blind for no other purpose than so Jesus could heal him later: “As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9) The disabled person is viewed as morally inferior, as a living warning against disobedience or a walking advertisement for God’s mercy.

This viewpoint is reflected in Christians who insist upon praying for disabled people’s disabilities to go away. Many, if not most, disabled people will at some point have the awkward and condescending experience of some well-meaning Christian wanting to pray to God on their behalf to ask God to “cure” or “fix” their disability.

Well, being blind is something that most people would regard as a handicap, a “disability”. (I know, the new term is “differently abled”.) As for the prayer, that’s okay so long as we realize it doesn’t work and so long as you don’t hector the disabled with religious stuff like prayer.

Lawrence emphasizes that disabilities aren’t caused by supernatural factors. That they are the result of natural factors falls under what Lawerence calls the “medical model of disability”, a view that few rational people hold:

The Medical Model asserts that disability is always “bad.” It is an abnormality that must be fixed or cured. Under this model, health care professionals, and authority figures generally,hold the exclusive power to cure, fix or accommodate a disability. Disabled people are told that they do not know what is best for themselves, that their input in their own treatment, accommodations and life choices are unnecessary and unpersuasive, and that they should be content with the choices that are made for them.

I would argue that yes, disabilities are in general bad, and most who have them would make them go away if they could. But I don’t know many people who argue that disabled people are hectored to be cured rather than being offered help (if help exists).

Lawrence’s own view is the one held by those of us with a rational mind, including the religious (is that an oxymoron?):

In contrast, contemporary disability advocates reject the Medical Model in favor of viewing disability as something that is neither morally good nor bad. Disability is simply one facet of an individual’s identity and a key component of how they socialize with the world. The disabled individual should, to the greatest extent possible, be in charge of their own life and medical decisions and be granted the same bodily autonomy that any other non-disabled person would be granted.

Nobody but some non-Christians would say that disabilities are MORALLY bad, anyway, but who could disagree with Lawrence here? Although I have my issues with deaf people deciding not to deal with the deafness of their children so as to perpetuate “deaf culture”, that’s only tangential.

So Lawrence, who is disabled, advocates ably for the rights of other disabled people. The problem is that this is an issue for disabiity rights organizations, not an organization devoted to religious and Church-State issues. After all, the “Medical Model” really has nothing to do with religion, and as I note below, the connection forged between disability rights and Christian nationalism is unconvincing and poorly confected.

So I wrote to Dan Barker (also mentioning the transgender “mission creep” of the FFRF), and here’s part of my email:

. . . . I saw that the FFRF used this same argument for disability rights in the latest issue of your newsletter. The first three pages of the newsletter contain nearly two pages of arguments about disability rights, and one of them makes this argument (my emphasis):

Disability rights are a state/church issue.

While America’s conscience has not consistently recognized this, there are clear ties between the Christian nationalist ideology that pervades legislation and the ongoing reality of stagnant and inadequate disability rights laws.The dangerous theocratic Christian ideology that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned is the same ideology that continues to play a part in the oppression of the 61 million disabled adults across the United States. This ideology has guided both harmful disability rights policy and the dismantling of abortion rights. To put it simply, if you care about disability rights, then you also care about the separation of state and church

Now I have no quarrel with fighting for disability rights, but:

a. Disability rights have nothing to do with church-state issues (have you seen evangelists railing against the disabled?)
b. You could say “there are clear ties between the Christian nationalist ideology that pervades American and the ongoing reality of X” (add under “X” your favorite social justice issue).
This, plus the transgender activism that we’ve discussed, makes me worry about “mission creep” of the FFRF: that you’ll dilute your strong efforts at separating church and state with various other aspects of social justice activism. I have nothing against most of that activism (though I do have with transgender participation in sports), but it is after all called the FFRF, and the forces of theocracy, especially in the Supreme Court, are rising again.
If Dan replies, I’m not going to put it here, as his end of the correspondence should be private. All I can say is that I suspect the FFRF will ignore our beefs (several of us wrote him). I also predict that the FFRF will continue to expand into non-religious areas of social justice, justifying them by drawing tenuous connections between religion and the areas chosen.  After all, can you think of any issue that can’t be framed as a “Christian nationalist” one? I just thought of gun rights, and of course you could say that Christian nationalists own more guns than nonbelievers, which is probably the case. And you can probably justify this by showing a history of Christians using and approving of guns (e.g., Lauren Boebert and many other Republicans). But that’s a correlation and not a causation, because the tribalism of Christian nationalism is connected with guns, but not because they’re mentioned in the Bible.


I’m writing this post to make people aware of what’s happening at the FFRF. I still love the organization and am a huge fan of Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-presidents, but am afraid that the organization is going woke.  One of my friends characterized this creep as a supplement to British historian Robert Conquest’s “laws of politics” (have a look at them). The new law:

 “Any organization that is not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.” In the past 3 years, substitute “woke” for “left-wing.”

29 thoughts on “FFRF further expands mission to disability rights, seen as a church-state issue involving “Christian nationalist ideology”

  1. In my view, clear ideas win. Lawrence made the best possible case for the FFRF widening the envelope of its mission. But PCC(E) makes it clear why that is a great error.

    … I hate to be cynical, but if they are running out of money, how about they focus on that – instead of finding new ways to attract donors?

      1. Influencewatch.org:
        Over $1.3 million in 2018 was provided to FFRF by dues-paying members, of which FFRF claims 32,000. [6][7] Almost $2.4 million of its revenues came from donations; notable organizational funders include the Adam R. Rose Foundation, the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, and the Craigslist Charitable Fund. Other donors funded FFRF with donor-advised funds through Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund and Schwab Charitable Fund.

      2. Let me know if you do find or start a group which fights for the separation of church and state but which can also view subjects such as transgenderism objectively and entertain valid factual debate about such subjects and not become captive to a radical idiology . It’s sad that FFRF has gone down this path following those whose beliefs resemble a religion . The radical transgender idiology resembles that of the NRA in the sense that there can be no laws whatsoever passed to regulate guns since that will result in all guns being banned . Any reasonable discussion about the extreme transgender idiology is seen as hate speech which will lead to the death of transgender people . Thanks

  2. Peter Turchin and his theory of Cliodynamics suggests that each Elite ends up generating more Elite proplr than there are jobs for, and this leads to the collapse of the old elite and the birth of a new elite. With an interregnum of chaos.

    Could it be that there are so many sons and daughters of the elite (and their minions) scrabbling for elite jobs that they create ‘social justice’ jobs to suit their activism? Resulting in mission creep in organisations?

    I have certainly noticed than some big charities in the UK have become increasingly political as their ‘good works’ have taken second place. And the media…

  3. Wow that is really a shame. I can’t figure out where they get this connection between conservative christians and disability rights. My guess is they see CCs as the dominant demographic group, and ableism as a widespread problem, and assume that one common trait is caused by the other common trait. Is the thinking at FFRF really this shoddy?

  4. Every time they extend their scope, there will be some people who, while supporting them on church/state separation, will not support them on the new issue. Thus, every time they extend their scope they will lose support.

    I’m betting that maybe a third of their supporters (at very least) do not agree with males self-IDing into women’s sports. That issue is overwhelmingly unpopular with the general public (and whatever popularity it has is likely artificially boosted by the misleading labelling of trans-IDing males as “girls” and “women”).

    Just about every single issue on the Democrat and left-wing agenda could be linked to religion in the sense that Christians are more likely to vote Republican. But, there are already plenty of groups campaining on Democratic and left-wing issues. The FFRF should stick to single-issue narrowness. If individual FFRF employees or members also wish to support other causes, then fine.

  5. If Christian Nationalism is impeding various human rights, shouldn’t the focus be on attacking Christian Nationalism itself? Dismantle the ideas behind the belief that a “God” exists who can so reliably communicate His Will to followers that they can run a country based on supernatural, untestable, mystical assertions. The FFRF is not only well-equipped to do this, but one of the very few organizations which is willing to exploit this weakness — as opposed to either ignoring the religious aspect of their motivation, or saying that God really wants something else.

  6. “there are clear ties between the Christian nationalist ideology that pervades legislation and the ongoing reality of stagnant and inadequate disability rights laws”

    Anecdote time: I grew up in the People’s Republic of Poland, under a government that was officially atheist, although, of course, many Polish citizens were (and still are) Catholic. “Christian nationalism” certainly had no influence over treatment of the disabled.

    And Poland’s treatment of the disabled during my childhood just plain sucked. The mentally ill were confined to asylums, which were the subject of many tasteless jokes. There were no (or hardly any) accommodations for wheelchair users – no curb cutouts, no wheelchair-accessible buses or streetcars. You hardly ever saw a wheelchair user in the street; I assume most of them were confined to their homes and reliant on their neighbors for grocery shopping and such. There was no sign language or books in Braille or other accommodations for the deaf or the blind.

    TL;DR: You don’t have to be a “Christian nationalist” to treat disabled people badly.

  7. It would be more appropriate for the FFRF to work against the more extreme forms of Woke ideology since those have many of the signatures of being a kind of religion.

  8. The tortured attempt by FFRF to connect disability concerns with “Christian nationalism” masks a deeper, more academic impetus: Critical Disability Theory. The appearance of this confection in academia was inevitable, and now it is apparently diffusing into other realms, just like its predecessors and models.

    “The task of critical disability theory is to analyze disability as a cultural, historical, relative, social, and political phenomenon.” Further: “Disability studies also investigate images and descriptions of disability, prejudice against people with disabilities (ableism), and the ways narrative relates to disability. Because of its concern with the body and embodiment, disability studies also intersects other critical schools like gender studies, queer studies, feminism, critical race studies, and more.” Copied from: https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/publications/studies/

  9. Maybe the argument is, “The idea that disability is something to be cured is rooted in stories of Jesus healing the blind, deaf, disfigured.” That would at least have a patina of plausibility, but I suspect the Bible writers got the idea that disabilities were suboptimal from non-supernatural sources.

  10. FFRF, of which I’m a member, is making a mistake with this mission creep. Take a look at what happened with the two “Reason Rallies” that were held in 2012 and 2016, which I attended. The first — which focused solely on church/state issues — attracted nearly double the number of attendees than the second — which shifted its focus to social justice issues (so-called “atheism +).

    1. I was wondering why is there this mission creep, while the intended focus of the organization is clearly stated in its name. I have two theories, which are mine. Here are my two theories.
      1. An attempt to stay solvent and relevant while America is becoming more secular and more conscious of current social justice issues. They depend on donations, after all.
      2. Gradual turn-over of people as they retire or move on, and the new hires of course would be young people who come in bc they already have a streak of activism. And young people with a streak of activism are more likely to have been raised on the current social justice causes. The old freedom from religion cause was just never on their radar.

      1. A third theory (which is indeed mine):

        3. A key feature of wokeism is the certainty that the woke attitude is morally in the right, and indeed morally obligatory. Hence, the woke employee at FFRF (or wherever) presumes that all of their supporters (being good people), will also support them on this issue and want it pursued. They would be baffled by the suggestion that any would not. And, if there were a few supporters who didn’t, then they must necessarily be bad people acting out of hate, and the organisation would obviously be better off without them.

        This is exactly the same process that caused the Deep Rifts over at FreeThoughtBlogs, where half the people were baffled that anyone could be an atheist and not support a whole slew of “social-justice” causes, and the other half wanted to subject such ideologies to the same critical appraisal they’d long done with religion.

        PZ invented the pejorative “dictionary atheist” for any atheist who didn’t uncritically adopt all the trendy woke causes that were prospering on FtB.

  11. Captured. This only makes sense if one sees “Christian Nationalism” as part of the superstructure of Capitalism, which is, of course, to blame for everything, including disabilities.

  12. Is it possible that the lure of intersectionality has captured this organization? Maybe the human need to be seen to be on the right side of history? A need to be a part of a bigger whole? If so, these manifestations of human frailty don’t bode well for the organization’s original mission since that mission requires the strength to stand alone in the face of the next religious revival.

  13. Mission creep cannot be a spontaneous process, inasmuch as missions are not live amoeboid organisms. The creation of “social justice jobs”, as Comment #2 notes, is undoubtedly a key factor. Look at universities in the US, where an entire layer of DEI officials and their underlings was created to provide employment for acolytes of “social justice” who lack any other employable abilities.

  14. I do not know anyone with a more positive view of the disabled than Christians. Some of them do not merely oppose the abortion of disabled fetuses, but even adopt children with handicaps like Down Syndrome. An ancient doctrine of Christians is that all humans are equal before God, and even the disabled are part of his design. What could be more egalitarian? In contrast, the secular humanists I’m familiar with think that disabled children should be aborted if possible, and perhaps even be killed shortly after birth. More commonly, they do not object to killing them later, through medically assisted suicide. The critics of state-sanctioned killing of vulnerable people are predominantly Christian.

    For the disabled, the worst consequence of a Christian worldview is that it encourages mental illness denial through its insistence on mind-body dualism. In the worst case, this can lead to accusations of witchcraft, which can lead to cruel practices like exorcising and sometimes even murdering the accused.

  15. As AC Harper alludes to above, the HUGE expansion of DEI/DIE employees has a bit to do with lots of BAs chasing not enough BA jobs. That industry can soak them up with the hideous unintended consequence that rather than it be just a fad, woke is not stopping anytime soon.
    Unlike my personal giving to FFRF (and quite a few others), which has stopped.

    Great reportage of this mess, and kudos for speaking up to them about it, PCC (E)
    NYC https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/06/10/photos-of-readers-93/

  16. I often go back to “The magic bough,” which focuses on human superstition and religion. Any object that appears like another object takes on those properties, in the eyes of certain people. ie kewpie dolls, etc. This “guilt by association” perspective is not productive. The church may be archaic in much of it’s orthodoxy, but it’s a divisive, polarizing stretch to conflate it with oppressing the disabled and white nationalism. Otherwise, perhaps the author of the paper could be prodded to get behind an Austrian postcard painter’s thinking because he was a vegetarian and loved dogs.

  17. That a disability is not a neutral factor can be seen in the fact that people (generally) don’t choose to be disabled. If it were truly neutral, significant numbers would choose it and some wouldn’t, there’d by some natural statistical variation, rather than the entire bell curve slammed up against one side of the axis, representing those who do not choose a disability.

  18. “…continues to play a part in the oppression of the 61 million disabled adults across the United States.”

    I wish the author would provide specific examples of this oppression.

  19. The idea that a person w/ an impairment must learn to “embrace and celebrate their differences”, even when those so-called “differences” cause immense hardship & suffering, that a disabled person must learn to “see themselves as being perfect the way they are”-even when it is plainly obvious that that is not the case-has much more in common with religious faith than the medical model.

    Lest anyone think that either is a harmless opiate, or a benign “white lie”, in 2021 the Spectrum10K study, which aimed to study the genetic underpinnings of autism, as well as other health conditions that co-occur w/ autism more frequently than would be expected by chance, was “paused” after an intense backlash on social media. The anti-cure “neurodiversity” zealots responsible for halting the study espouse both the postmodern social model of disability, irrational identitarianism, & extreme bioconservatism that leads them to view the development of a cure for ASD, or a means of preventing the condition, as “genocide”.

    I should add, I myself suffer from high functioning autism & chose to participate in the SPARK autism genetics study. It is my hope that one day this line of scientific inquiry might result in treatment or prevention breakthroughs that could render the condition that has disabled me a historical artifact.
    Whether or not the medical model is always successful-attempts to treat my condition, for example, have never been successful, & obviously w/ many conditions, the science is just not there yet-it at least *aims* to alleviate suffering & maximize human potential by mitigating, or (if possible) curing, or better yet preventing, the disabling condition(s), which is something all secular humanists ought to be able to get behind.

  20. The threat to the disabled from religion is not someone offering to pray for them, & it is just silly to suggest it is. Sure, some atheists might be offended by that, but that is hardly specific to disability.

    Rather, the threat that religion could pose to the disabled is it’s bioconservatism-bioconservatism being the belief that anything that occurs “naturally” (like congenital anomalies, & pretty much *any* genetic defect) is “sacred” & must therefore never be altered or prevented. Leon Kass seems to be a good example of someone who thinks like this, but it is not just limited to the religious, socially conservative right-in fact, the most vociferous proponents of this anti-progress, pro-suffering agenda are not the religious right, but rather the very “disability rights”/social model of disability activists who the FFRF is siding with!

    The bottom line is my book is we need to look to advances in biotech-including, but not limited to, gene therapy/modification, in order to free the disabled from these conditions, if possible. I agree w/ Wilson who says, in “Consilience”, that he would’ve liked it if his (very mild) dyslexia could have been prevented w/ gene editing.

    Why FFRF would side w/ people who apparently believe that it is “ableist” to say that disability ought to be prevented or cured, people who apparently deny that disabilities themselves (as opposed to just “lack of accommodations”/”societal injustice”) are intrinsically harmful & detrimental to quality of life, is beyond me. In fact, there are many in the disability movement who are so vehemently to ever discussing quality of life considerations that they even campaign against laws that would allow *terminally ill cancer patients* to choose assisted suicide.

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