Atheist activists are rejoicing. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist non-profit, is expanding. The organization, known for suing over perceived violations of the separation of church and state, is planning major renovations that will quadruple the size of its Madison, Wis.-based offices.
Dubbed the fastest-growing atheist group in the country by the Wisconsin State Journal, the FFRF has reportedly experienced a 130 percent member increase over the past six years. Currently, 20,000 individuals are paid members. As the atheist organization's website highlights, individual membership is $40 per year (a lifetime membership is $1,000).
The FFRF operates with 19 staff members (13 permanent staffers plus interns and volunteers) in a small, cramped building and according to co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker (the husband and wife duo who run the group), it's time to expand the building's walls.
During a year-long renovation project, the organization plans to add a third floor to its current structure. Additionally, a nearby apartment building will be demolished to make room for a separate, four-story building.
"We’re growing by leaps and bounds," Gaylor told the State Journal. "We’re winning a lot of legal victories, and the more victories you get, the more requests for help you get."
FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker at the Reason Rally in March 2012 (Photo Credit: TheBlaze)
TheBlaze spoke with Barker on Tuesday, who said that the expansion project has been three years in the making.
Initially, the plan was to simply add one floor to the current building, as the neighbor of the nearby property had veto rights and was not prepared to allow the FFRF to expand into the nearby land. Eventually, though, the group was able to buy him out.
"Right now we're so crowded. It's hard to be productive. We'll be able to be more productive," Barker said. "Our four attorneys -- not one of them has a proper office. So, they all will be much more productive."
The announcement comes as much debate surrounds just how fast the nation's atheist population is growing. While 20 percent of the country considers itself non-religious ("nones"), this does not necessarily mean that one in five Americans are atheist or agnostic; it simple indicates that these people are not attached to an official religious construct.
Many secular activists, though, have seized upon the statistic to show that faith is on the decline. But Gallup’s editor-in-chief Frank Newport addressed this group earlier this year in an interview with TheBlaze, noting that their growth may be overstated and that it may very well be leveling out.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (Photo Credit: AP)
“The level of increase in 2012 compared to 2011 is the smallest increase we’ve seen in the last five,” he noted (Gallup data released earlier this year shows that the proportion of religiously-unaffiliated Americans has, indeed, slowed in its expansion).
While some might dismiss Newport’s claims, he told TheBlaze that these aren’t opinions; they are realities based on more than one million Gallup interviews that he has analyzed. As a social scientist, he explained that his job isn’t to provide personal perspective; instead, his role is to report what the American public thinks — a task that has led him to these intriguing conclusions.
When asked to describe some of the indicators that back up another conclusion of his -- that America “is a very religious country” -- Newport gladly obliged. Among his reasons for seeing a healthy and vibrant religious sentiment, the Gallup editor-in-chief noted that belief in God has remained “remarkably high.” According to his analysis, more than 90 percent of the nation embraces the concept of a higher power.
Regardless of the overall trend, it appears Gaylor and Barker are slated to hire additional staff and to expand their home base -- efforts that will, at the least, offer the organization greater sociopolitical power. Whether this will enable the group to churn out additional non-believers or more emboldened anti-theists remains to be seen.