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An Interview with Annie Laurie Gaylor on 2019, Vice President Mike Pence, Fervour and Zeal, a Truly Secular Nation, and Women’s Rights (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/06/22


Annie Laurie Gaylor is the Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She discusses: looking forward into 2019; the Trump Administration Vice President Mike Pence; the dual issues of fervour and zeal; a secular nation; and #MeToo and women’s rights.

Keywords: Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President, Freedom From Religion Foundation, women’s rights.

An Interview with Annie Laurie Gaylor on 2019, Vice President Mike Pence, Fervour and Zeal, a Truly Secular Nation, and Women’s Right: Co-President, Freedom From Religion Foundation (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How does this then look going forward into 2019? I do recall a Guttmacher Institute publication noting that legalization of abortion in the cases studied by the Institute, or its team, reduced the instance of abortion, in addition to all the associated harms that come along with illicit abortions that women will get anyway.

Annie Laurie Gaylor: Of course. The Freedom from Religion Foundation wouldn’t exist were it not for the religious battles against abortion and contraceptive rights. My mother and I cofounded FFRF as a regional group in 1976, when I was a college student. She had been, basically, a full-time feminist activist for several years, especially working for abortion rights in Wisconsin.

It opened our eyes to the harm of any kind of religious control over our secular government because we could see very clearly that the only organized opposition to abortion rights was religious in nature. We’re still fighting the same battles.

There’s just no question that we must keep religious dogma out of our secular laws, and that the crusaders against abortion rights are all doing it in the name of religion. It’s fine if they don’t want an abortion, or they don’t want to use contraception, but they should jolly well stop trying to impede the reproductive rights of other people.

Of course, this is a huge fight. It’s a huge battle but most Americans support abortion rights and certainly support contraceptive rights. We’re in danger that we could lose these rights. We think that politicians may have had a wakeup call with the midterm elections, as well.

One out of three women having had an abortion, this is an awful lot of people. That’s why the abortion rights movement encourages people who have had abortions to speak up so that it isn’t stigmatized.

2. Jacobsen: Is Trump Administration Vice President Mike Pence a symbolic threat, a legitimate threat, or both, to those rights?

Gaylor: I think it’s both. I think that Trump has turned over much of his domestic policy to Pence. That was a deal that they made and he has continually reminded the religious right of all the things that he has done for them. He does it almost every time he goes before a religious body and, hence, has wielded a lot of power.

There have been some ruptures that have been gossiped about recently. We were talking about how he might cast aside Pence if he runs again, when he runs again. Who knows what’s going on behind the scenes, but there’s clearly been a deal?

We have seen Mike Pompeo, our top diplomat, Secretary of State, believe in the rapture. There was this expose of his remarks in 2015 to that effect, talking about how he wants to work for Jesus Christ, and how there will be a rapture.

This is a level of ignorance that we have never seen before. We’ve seen the religious right in the Reagan administration, Bush administration, but we have never seen so many foxes guarding the chicken coop as in the Trump administration, so many of them just sincerely fundamentalist Christians.

It’s like you want to be in the Trump administration, you better have that kind of pedigree. He’s just clearly selling out completely to the religious right, and he’s going to continue to do it, and they don’t seem to care a bit about his moral failings. They just want to get their agenda passed. I think that it’s been quite a wake-up for us that the Christian right has completely ceded any moral high ground.

3. Jacobsen: How does a population of secular women, who aren’t necessarily the best represented even within the community, combat the motivational forces of zeal and fervour found unlike any other place in the Western world, as found in evangelical fundamentalist Christian communities in the United States?

Gaylor: We have held a wonderful Women’s March In 2017, with all the Pussy hats, and we have seen continual push-back at the rallies with women dressed like they were part of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Jacobsen: Those are pretty good, actually.

Gaylor: It’s become a very iconic sight.  I think we’re making our position very known and very clear. I think an awful lot of women got a wakeup call. That’s why so many of them, an unprecedented number, and an unprecedented number of minority women did run for office. They didn’t all make it, of course, but it was a tremendous outpouring of legislative activism by women who were fed up.

I think that we’re doing well in terms of making known our dissent from the current administration, as far as we can. Obviously, women are still grossly underrepresented in the House. You can forget about it in the Senate. It was fascinating that there wasn’t any change in the number of Republican women in the US Senate. It’s pathetic. That stayed at 13. The Republican party is obviously losing women.

I wouldn’t be in this business if I wasn’t an optimist.  It’s an uphill battle—

Jacobsen: That’s true.

Gaylor: – working for freethought, being an atheist, working for the separation of church and state in the United States.

I’ve lived through a lot, but we do have to be especially alarmed now that we have the Kavanaugh appointment, and we have several elderly liberal justices in their 80, one of them has just gotten another cancer, on the Supreme Court. There’s just no question that in terms of the Supreme Court, we are in trouble, but I do think that political pendulum can swing back very quickly.

The trouble with the Supreme Court is it will be there for several generations, and there is already talk by the Democrats about what they might do to fix that. They don’t have to have nine members on the Supreme Court. They could add more. They’re talking about different things that they might do. It may come to that. These things get out of hand.

Or it may be that Roberts, who is cognizant of, I think, how he wants to go down in history may be able to guide the court and avert some of the worst disasters. I do not think that separation of church and state, that keeping our country secular, is going to be top of the list on the Roberts court. He may come through for abortion or the worst of the abortion attacks, but I don’t know whether we will be able to salvage as much as we can for a separation of church and state.

If the Supreme Court takes a position with the Bladensburg case that the government can put up a Christian cross as a war memorial, we have lost enormous ground. We are not a secular nation anymore. We will have to see. We fight very hard against that.

4. JacobsenWas America ever a truly secular nation?

Gaylor: Our constitution is truly secular. It is completely godless and the only references to religion are exclusionary, such that there should be no religious tests for public office. It was first among nations to not claim a pipeline to a divinity. There is no god in our constitution. It’s godless.

We, theoretically, are a secular republic, but as soon as it was adopted, there was pushback. The Christian Party in Politics became very active, especially in the 1820s, and one of their first victories was to stop the mail delivery on Sundays, for example.

We were secular. The mail was being delivered on Sundays. Only 7% of Americans were church-going at the time of the adoption of the constitution. That doesn’t mean that they might not have been religious, but it wasn’t a hugely religious country. But we’ve had so many eras of revivals, and it’s taken its toll.

We’ve had so many violations in the 1950s that have rewritten history. “In God we trust” adopted as a motto, putting the words, “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. These have had a very deleterious effect because whole generations have grown up thinking that there is a relationship between God and our government, or that somehow, we are a godly country. They assume that if most people are Christian, then we are a Christian nation, but we have a neutral government.

It is an uphill battle reminding people about the secular roots of our country.

5. Jacobsen: I have one more. This is less legal, but more socio-political, or just maybe cultural, secular culture. As we’re seeing the 2006 Tarana Burke #MeToo come forward into October 2017 with Alyssa Milano giving it an extra boost, and then this being taken in various contexts, and particularly some of the religious ones, #MosqueToo, #ChurchToo, and so on, we’re seeing men who have acted badly in their personal or professional lives, being called out in religious and in secular domains.

What can secular men do, but also secular community do, to perhaps give a more sympathetic and respectful ear to women coming forward with claims of sexual mistreatment or mistreatment generally? I take this in a serious note because looking at the FBI reports, they would estimate that about 8% of the rape claims are unfounded. In other words, it’s an extreme form of sexual violence, so any allegation should be taken very seriously in addition to some of the statistics provided by the FBI – and the Home Office of the UK indicating relatively reliable findings on a surface analysis.

Gaylor: At the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in 40 years, we’ve only had a few incidents. In our early days, we had a male speaker who happened to be on our board, accost one of my friends, a young student, in the elevator at the end of our convention, grab her in this bear hug and kiss her all the way down the elevator. She was a rape survivor. She was upset. Fortunately, she told me. My mother called that guy up and said, “You’re off our board. We don’t want to see you again.” We weren’t going to put up with that.

A couple of other minor episodes where we immediately took action. Those are unusual, but we act. We were started by two women. We’ve always had a feminist bent. I don’t think that I would assume that secular groups haven’t been responsive. I think maybe FFRF is unusual, in that we were very feminist-oriented.

I think that American Atheists, I can’t speak for them, but they did get rid of their executive director who was accused of some very nasty things. Maybe it took them a little longer, but apparently, they say the board did not know about these things beforehand. That at least sends a message that you’re not going to tolerate it. Yes, it can happen in secular and religious cultures.

I think secular cultures are more apt to be a little more feminist, but you can’t always count on that. In general, I think that the freethought movement has been such a good friend of feminism. Certainly, when I did a lot of work on a book I edited, Women without Superstition, about 19 to 20th-century feminists, freethinkers, you would run into that repeatedly.

People like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were very lauded by the freethought movement. They loved her. They adopted her. They appreciated her even before she wrote The Women’s Bible. They saw what an asset she was.

I think, in general, the free thought movement has been much more sympathetic to women and women’s rights, of course, partly thanks to the feisty women freethinkers who have started groups and written books, and been activists and made sure that our voices were also heard. But I do think that freethought and feminism are natural allies, whereas religion has got that awful book, the Bible, which is like a handbook for women’s subjection.

That gives religion, a hard way to overcome its past. Certainly, many denominations do embrace some feminism now but it’s not because of their Bible. It’s because of the women activists who forced them to change.

I think that secular government is women’s salvation. When you see what happens around the world, and how women are treated in Islamist nations or theocratic nations, we can see it’s a matter of life and death that we should have secular government.

6. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Annie Laurie.

Gaylor: Thank you for listening. Hope I didn’t talk your ear off.

Jacobsen: It was lovely.

Gaylor: All right. It was a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you.

Jacobsen: Excellent. Pleasure to talk to you too.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Co-President, Freedom From Religion Foundation.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 22, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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