The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a joke: “We don’t care what you call yourself — atheist, agnostic, skeptic — we all disbelieve in the same god.”
The Foundation was co-founded in 1976 by Anne Nicol Gaylor and Annie Laurie Gaylor, a mother-daughter duo. Anne Nicol Gaylor was an abortion rights activist concerned about how religion negatively shaped lawmakers’ policy choices.
Now, daughter Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation as the group contends with ongoing issues like reinforcing the separation of church and state, and contending with the rise of Christian nationalism.
What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?
I think I’d have to say, two parts. One of them is more economic and racial. Diversity, equity and inclusion, and the need for it, and the economic problems with racism, is a big issue in this town. But I think the second challenge is what we all face everywhere, which is climate change. There was just a report that Madison and Dane County are not equipped to move fast on this issue. And that was very concerning.
What do you wish people in our community understood better?
How lucky we are, generally. I think the Madison community, despite economic disparities and so on, is kind of in a little bubble. You know, we are liberal. We’re a college town. It’s like a liberal oasis. And we are lucky to be here. But sometimes it makes it harder to understand what’s going on in the rest of the state or the rest of the country. I think most Madisonians feel lucky, but I think maybe we should appreciate it more.
What is one change you would make if you could that you think would make life better for people in Madison?
I wish that we could figure out a way to get rid of homelessness. There are some communities that are doing a lot of experiments. And I think there are ways to eradicate it, and that should be our goal. I hate walking by — I hate seeing (when people experience homelessness.) I think it reflects that our community is failing.
I have been working with a once-homeless woman who has an apartment in Middleton now, and knowing what she’s gone through … It’s been very eye-opening. She was actually from Milwaukee, where that situation is a lot worse but (housing people) should be our goal as a community. There shouldn’t be people who do not have a shelter. They need [access to] the basic food and shelter and opportunities that they need to prosper.
What in our community gives you hope?
Madison is such a progressive community. It is very hopeful that people are trying to make the world a better place in Madison, even if we’re sometimes a little bit complacent about it.
It’s been a very good home for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And I think we’ve had a role in helping to make this city more hospitable to us, too, because the census in 2010 showed 52% [of people] identify as not having a religion in our city, and that’s really high. I think the fact that [Madison is] such an enlightened community is very helpful. And like I said, I really feel that it’s been such a safe, welcoming, comfortable place, for the most part, for our really quite radical group. We’re just taken for granted. I think that’s pretty cool.