Anne Nicol Gaylor




There are nor gods, no devils, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

 Wording for a monument to counter religious displays 1995


1) What's wrong with the Ten Commandments?


2)  What Does the Bible Say about Abortion?

3)  The Religious Battered Woman

Anne Nicole Gaylor was born in 1926 at her family's farm in Wisconsin. She and her three brothers lived on the farm surrounded by pet animals. Cared for by a nurse/housemother when their mother died, Annie from the age of four was an avid reader.

An entrepreneur, she  started the first temporary office help service in Madison in 1958 and, with a partner, the city's first private employment agency in 1959.  As owner and editor of a suburban weekly newspaper she trans-formed the Middleton Times Tribune into a lively, award-winning piece of community journalism - too lively for the tastes of some in the staid religious community when she ran the first editorial in the state calling for the legalising of abortion in 1968.

She became a pioneering abortion rights advocate, establishing a referral service three years prior to Roe v. Wade. Since 1972 she has administered, as a volunteer, the Women's Medical Fund charity, which has helped more than seven thousand needy Wisconsin women pay for abortions. She was active in several women's rights groups, serving as vice-president central of the National Abortion Rights Action League from  1972-1978.

"There were many groups working for women's rights," she realised, "but none of them dealt with the root cause of women's oppression - religion."

'In the mid-seventies, with her daughter Annie Laurie and an elderly friend, John Sontarck of Milwaukee, she started the Freedom From Religion Foundation, "a dining-room table cause group" until 1978, when it was organized as a national association with Anne as president, a post she still holds. The Foundation's focus has been the separation of church and state and the education of the public about nontheism.'

'Under Anne's direction, the group launched the only existing freethought newspaper in North America, Freethought Today, in 1984 and produced two documentary films, "A Second Look at Religion" and "Champions of the First Amendment," brought a variety of lawsuits around the country to protect the First Amendment, published books, held annual national conventions, popularized the nineteenth-century term "freethinker," and handled a multitude of protests against religious incursion in government and public schools.'

'In 1983, when Congress passed a law designating it as the "Year of the Bible," Anne was chief plaintiff in an attempt, unsuccessful but widely reported, to enjoin President Ronald Reagan from signing the proclamation. In 1995 the Foundation succeeded in overturning a Wisconsin statute that designated worship on Good Friday and established it as a state holiday. Continuing her feminist work Anne successfully sued a Wisconsin Attorney General, Donald Hanaway, in 1989, when he illegally placed the State of Wisconsin on a friend-of-the-court brief before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade...........'

'............ She tangled with Catholic talkshow host Phil Donahue in Chicago when he refused to show her book on abortion because of its positive title 'Abortion Is A Blessing.' As they were about to go on the air, Donahue told Anne that her book was "tasteless" and "would create shock waves across America." However, toward the end of the show in response to a call about the power of religion in the media, Anne said, "Let me tell you about the power of religion. I am probably the first person ever to appear on the Donahue show whose book could not be shown because of religious prejudice. Because I dared to write a book with a positive title about abortion, my book may not be shown. Yet I have referred thousands of women for abortion. They have been as young as twelve and as old as fifty-two. Many of them have had nine and ten children. Many have been ill. I know that abortion is a blessing. It is a blessing for women and a blessing for society." A sheepish Donahue displayed the book; America survived the "shock wave."'

Anne Nicole has been honoured with many awards for her work on behalf of women' autonomy and freethought.

Anne's best-known aphorisms: "It is possible to speculate endlessly about the nonexistent." and two that have been used by her daughter Annie's ex-preacher husband Dan Barker for songs on his double album Friendly Neighborhood Atheist - "Nothing fails like prayer." and "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."

Her two published books are Abortion Is A Blessing (1976) and a collection of essays, Lead Us Not Into Penn Station (1983) . Three of the essays are printed in Women Without Superstition: A deliciously perceptive and funny 'Critique of the Scriptural Jesus', and a clear and unequivocal consideration of 'The Religious Battered Woman'. Her rational perspective on 'What's wrong with the Ten Commandments'   is printed here:

What's wrong with the Ten Commandments?

By Anne Nicole Gaylor from her essay

 'Lead Us Not Into Penn Station'

Critics of the bible occasionally score a point or two in discussion with the religious community by noting the many teachings in both the Old and New Testaments that encourage the bible believer to hate and to kill, biblical lessons that history proves Christians have taken most seriously. Nonetheless the bible defendant is apt to offer as an indisputable parting shot, "But don't forget the ten commandments. They are the basic bible teaching. Study the ten commandments."

  Do study the ten commandments! They epitomize the childishness, the vindictiveness, the sexism, the inflexibility and the inadequacies of the bible as a book of morals.

  Actually, only six of the ten commandments deal with an individual's moral conduct, which comes as a surprise to most Christians. Essentially, the first four commandments say:

I. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2. Thou shalt not make thee any graven images or bow down to them,

and if you do I'll get you and your kids and their descendants.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.

4. Keep the Sabbath holy.

The exact terminology is found in chapter five of Deuteronomy. Two other versions of the "ten commandments" can be found in the Old Testament. One version, in Exodus 20, differs slightly from the Deuteronomy version, while a third, in Exodus 34, is wildly different, containing commandments about sacrifices and offerings and ending with the teaching: "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk." This is the only version referred to in scriptures as the "ten commandments."

In essence, the first four commandments all scream that "the Lord thy god" has an uneasy vanity, and like most dictators, must resort to threats, rather than intellectual persuasion, to promote a point of view. If there were an omnipotent god, can you imagine him or her being concerned if some poor little insignificant creature puttered around and made a graven image? Do you think that any god, possessing the modicum of good will you could expect to find in any neighbor, would want to punish children even "unto the third and fourth generation" because their fathers could not believe? How can anyone not perceive the pettiness, bluster, bombast and psychotic insecurity behind the first four commandments? We are supposed to respect this!


5. "Honor thy father and thy mother" is the fifth commandment, and it is, of course, an extension of the authoritarian rationale behind the first four. Honor cannot be bestowed automatically by an honest intellect. In-tellectually honest people can honor only those who, in their opinion, warrant their honor. The biologic fact of fatherhood and motherhood does not in and of itself warrant honor. Until very recently parenthood was not a matter of choice. It still is a mandatory, not optional, happening for many of the world's people. Why should any child be commanded to honor, without further basis, parents who became parents by accident-who didn't even plan to have a child? All of us know children who have been abused, beaten or neglected by their parents. What is the basis for honor there? How does the daughter honor a father who sexually molests her? "Honor only those who merit your honor" would be a more appropriate teaching, and if that includes your parents, great! "Honor your children" would have been a compassionate commandment.

6. Commandments six through nine - thou shalt not kill, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness - obviously have merit, but even they need extensive revision. To kill in self-defense is regrettable, but it is certainly morally defensible, eminently sensible conduct. So is the administration of a shot or medication that will end life for the terminally ill patient who wishes to die.

Adultery, the subject of the seventh commandment, again raises the question of an absolute ban. For the most part fidelity in marriage is a sound rule, making for happiness, but some marriages may outlast affection. Some couples may agree to live by different rules. Until relatively recent times Christian marriages were not dissolvable except by death, so the ban of divorce coupled with the ban of adultery obviously created great distress. Adultery, it must be remembered, involves an act between consenting adults. How much more relevant and valuable it would be to have, for instance, a commandment that forbids the violent crimes of rape and incest.

"Thou shalt not steal" raises questions regarding the usefulness of a blanket condemnation, and may put squatter's rights ahead of public and private welfare. Should people who are cold or ill steal to ameliorate their situations? Should the child who is hungry steal? Surely this command-ment cries for some amending clauses. One is reminded of the comment of Napoleon, who really had religion figured out: "How can you have order in a state without religion? For, when one man is dying of hunger near another who is ill of surfeit, he cannot resign himself to this differ-ence unless there is an authority which declares, `God wills it thus.' Reli-gion is excellent stuff for keeping people quiet."

In general, to bear false witness is construed to mean "don't lie," and that is a valuable moral precept, except again it is stated in absolute terms. Lies have saved lives, they have preserved relationships, and every day they save hurt feelings. The truth is not always a reasonable or kind solution. Interestingly, in biblical times the dictum not to bear false witness against a neighbor was a tribal commandment and meant to apply only to persons within the tribe-it was quite all right to bear false witness against "strangers."

      10.Finally, the tenth commandment, which riles the feminist blood, says: "Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor's."


In addition to rating a wife with an ox and an ass, the bible loftily overlooks the woman who might desire her neighbor's husband. Covetousness somehow does not seem like such a crime. If you can't have a comfortable house or a productive farm, what is the great harm in wishing you did?


Covetousness may be nonproductive and unpretty, but to make a big, bad deal out of it is ridiculous. Bible apologists sometimes will excuse the triviality of the tenth commandment on the basis that to covet, in a more superstitious age, meant "to cast an evil eye." Someone who coveted "his neighbor's house" was purportedly casting an evil eye on that property with a view toward its destruction. Whether one accepts the apologist's definition of covet or the more popular meaning, the tenth commandment lacks real importance.

Little in Christianity is original. Most of it is borrowed, just as the celebration of Christmas was borrowed from Roman and earlier pagan times. When the "Lord" supposedly wrote his commandments on two tablets of stone and delivered them to Moses (Deut. 5:22), he was only aping earlier gods: Bacchus, Zoroaster and Minos.

Reflect for a moment that almost anyone reading this essay could write a kinder, wiser, more reasoned set of commandments than those that Christians insist we honor. Try it!

  Women Without Superstition "No Gods No Masters"