By Ginia Bellafante
When you call the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., and you are put on hold, a recording of a song written by one of its founders, Dan Barker, performed to the melody of the “Battle of Jericho,” begins to play. (“I’ve heard about your hero Joshua who’s not so great/But there’s none like Thomas Jefferson and his battle between church and state.”) For 37 years, the organization has espoused the causes of atheists, agnostics and skeptics fighting laws that make days of religious observance state holidays, practices that leave public schools with pictures of Christ hanging on their walls and town councils that appropriate public money for, to cite one example, the repair of church steeples. In many instances the foundation’s work has been successful.
Given its reach, it is perhaps not surprising that the group, which claims 1,200 members in New York, has recently taken issue with the de Blasio administration’s affection for the current pope. Specifically, the group objects to the city’s gift of 80,000 tickets awarded through a lottery to those New Yorkers who would like to see Pope Francis’ procession in Central Park, one of several appearances he is scheduled to make during his visit to New York next week. “In this case the city of New York is showing favoritism to one religion, Catholicism, over all minority religions and nonreligions,” a letter from the group’s co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor to the mayor read. “NYC appears to be endorsing Pope Francis’ sectarian message.”
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