A photo of Jess Piper with the title secularist of the week, and a photo of Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth with the title theocrat of the week

‘Secularist’ is rural Missouri advocate, Christian nationalist Ala. lt. gov. is ‘theocrat’ 

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FFRF Action Fund celebrates its “Secularist of the Week” for her commitment to secular and progressive values in rural Missouri. Meanwhile, our “Theocrat of the Week” is again proving he does not care about church and state separation.  

Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth is a repeat Christian nationalist opponent of FFRF. In May, multiple concerned parents reached out to FFRF after the principal of Stanhope Elmore High School in Millbrook, Ala., permitted a religious assembly to take place during the school day. Students were called to attend a mandatory mental health seminar in which the founder and CEO of “Recovery ALIVE,” a Christian 12-step program, proselytized to students and led them in prayer.

FFRF swiftly sent a complaint to the school district. Still, the superintendent went on to claim that the assembly was neither mandatory nor a “religious assembly” despite the multiple photos of students gathered in prayer and an admission in a Facebook post that the speaker had come to “talk about Jesus and Recovery in a large public high school.” 

Ainsworth has responded to FFRF’s efforts by declaiming, “The same fringe group targeting this voluntary school assembly has attacked me in the past for simply encouraging Alabamians to celebrate Easter and seeking prayers on behalf of law enforcement officers.” He continues, “I believe strongly that the rise in juvenile crime and the lack of respect for human life that so many young people in high-crime areas possess today is a direct result of religion being removed from our schools and other public venues.” Clearly, Ainsworth wants his personal religion to be at the forefront of public institutions that are meant to remain secular. 

In 2019, Ainsworth called for citizens to pray for FFRF in a Facebook post sharing an article about FFRF contacting the Blount County sheriff after the department promoted a prayer vigil it was organizing. The Blount County Sheriff’s Department disassociated itself from the prayer vigil when FFRF pointed out the constitutional issues. Ainsworth wrote: “An anti-religion group is trying to make Blount County’s sheriff abandon a prayer vigil. Don’t they know Alabama’s motto is ‘We Dare Defend Our Rights’? Join me in praying for the sheriff and asking God to touch the hearts of the misguided FFRF lawyers.” 

Our “Secularist of the Week” has a much better grasp on the crucial separation of church and state. Jess Piper is the executive director for Blue Missouri and host of the podcast “Dirt Road Democrat.” In 2022, Piper ran for office in a heavily tilted district in rural Missouri, where her candidacy as a Democrat was the first in 32 years. Despite falling short in her Statehouse race, Piper is using her experience to crowdfund support for down-ballot Democrats across Missouri, ensuring seats traditionally held by conservatives are not left uncontested. 

Last week, Piper posted a blog titled “Losing my Religion,” in which she discusses her journey from growing up in a church-orientated household to becoming nonreligious. She opened her blog with, “This is hard for me to say, but it gets easier each time I say it … I am not religious.” Piper continues by detailing how she discovered there were older texts than the bible in college when she was assigned to read “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” a tome from Ancient Mesopotamia. Piper then struggled with similarities between various world mythologies and Christianity, causing her to question her religious beliefs. 

Piper wrote, “It was a long process, but I remember the exact moment it started and I also know this: Christian nationalists don’t want children fully educated, because a good education forces you to think for yourself and that comes with questions and difficult dilemmas.” Piper went further: “While I lost my religion, I have gained an appreciation for true love and empathy and a willingness to serve others. … I realized religion has nothing to do with any of those things. You can be a good person while religious or while an atheist. That was a surprise as someone raised in an evangelical church.”

Piper also regularly defends the separation of church and state on social media. On Sunday, in response to a church hosting an incumbent state senate candidate, she tweeted, “If you suspect a tax-exempt organization is not complying with the tax laws, you may send information to the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division,” with contact information for the IRS’ complaint process. We are eternally thankful for state-church separation advocates like our secularist who counteracts theocrats such as Ainsworth holding public office.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.