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American Secularists Marching Together in a Broken World

Our reason and our humanism is challenged every single day by news of incredible hate, superstition, and intolerance that comes from the faith-based mentality. Just recently, we’ve had to hear the horrible news of another gay teen suicide in a religious household; we’ve had to stand by and watch a 16-year old face death threats and go to school with a police escort because of her atheist activism. We’ve had to watch multiple instances of businesses refusing service to atheists, and face an internet community willing to defend to such bigotry. We’ve had to hear of kids being kicked out of their homes and shunned from their entire community for fighting school-sponsored prayer.

I don’t think I can say this any more lightly, but I do sincerely believe that many of the intolerant attitudes against atheists in America are blatantly contrary to what America is all about. The founders of this country were not perfect, and some of them were Christian. But many were in fact not Christian, and they all understood the importance of not only religious pluralism but also the dangers of religion. More importantly, they understood the role of reason in human affairs; it was to be a guardian against fanaticism and superstition, and an integral part of the search for truth. It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote the following:

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

That is why it is more important than ever that American secularists, no matter their personal identifications, come out and march together in celebration of reason (and as a consequence, against the forces of superstition).

In fact the greatest gathering of the secular movement in world history is going to happen very soon at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2012. It is called the Reason Rally, and if there is anything you should be part of, it is this.

It is sponsored by literally every freethought, secular, atheist, humanist, etc. organization that I’ve heard of.

It’s the one event we’ve all been waiting for.

And in a broken world that needs more reason and less religion, in a country with a proud tradition of secularism that needs to be defended, the Reason Rally is a symbol of our hope for the future. American secularists have marched far and wide for the last 200 years. We’ve made incredible leaps in the last couple of decades.

We’re going to continue to change the religious direction of this country. We’re going to show that we really are the fastest growing minority in America. We’re going to show that we too are citizens and that our opinions and votes matter. We’re going to march on Washington–proudly, openly, with a spirit that will never wane.

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What Makes It All Worthwhile

It’s been a long week, and I have a million things I want to write about.

First up: update on Damon Fowler, the recently-graduated high schooler who was kicked out of his community and his house for challenging an illegal school-sponsored prayer.

Greta Christina wrote a long post with all the important details about his situation and the response of the secular community. This passage struck me the most.

But when Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community stepped up. It provided compassion. It demanded justice. It offered emotional support. It offered practical support. It opened its wallets. It made it unassailably clear to Damon Fowler that he was not alone: that although his school, his community, even his parents, had all turned their backs on him, atheists would take care of him, as best they could, until he could take care of himself. It made it clear that, even though he no longer had a home in Bastrop, he had a home in this movement. When Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community proved itself to be a real community.

Reflections like the one above don’t just make me feel warm and fuzzy; they make me proud to be part of this movement.

I’ve been thinking about this movement lately, and I realize that the road doesn’t stop here. There’s a lot more to be done. There will be more troubles ahead. We’ll face misunderstanding, ignorance, and outright hatred.

But we have to remember to never ever give into the belief that only religious communities can provide real support and comfort. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that there are some things that others can provide that we can’t.

Don’t Think Too Much, Just Obey

You can get updates and read more about Damon Fowler’s situation on Hemant’s blog.

Jerrett, Damon’s brother, gave an interview. I found the following story quite profound.

My parents can be a little unpredictable about things. I heard rumors that they fully blame me for everything that my brother did in the last several months, from admitting that he’s an atheist to the school prayer incident.

It probably has a lot to do with the email I sent my mother when I was 23, after I left home to go to school in the Dallas area. She kept trying to rule my life, asking me if I found a church in Texas. I finally got tired of it and told her, in a lengthy email, that I am agnostic and there is no way I’ll ever go back to Christianity. She tells me that I’ve gotten too smart and that because of that I have turned my back on God. Apparently, to her, there is a such thing as “thinking too much.

That’s right, all you faithful people out there. Don’t get too smart. Don’t think too much. Heck, why would you even want to go to college, an environment that makes you do exactly that?

Instead, you should take inspiration from #3 of the Top 13 Creepiest Christian Education Video For Kids.

Orange County Christians Behave Well

Remember when I mentioned the billboard put up by the Orange County Coalition for Reason as part of a national billboard campaign?

Well, there are plenty of people not happy with atheists speaking out. Similar billboards in California have been defaced. In Westminster, however, the Christians chose a much more reasonable course of action.

A group of Christians who have been gathering to conduct Bible studies under a “Godless billboard” erected by a national atheist organization say they will do so until the sign comes down.

This is perfect. Nobody breaks any laws. Nobody gets hurt. No property gets damaged or vandalized. No groups or ideas get censored. Both sides get to say and do what they want. More importantly, we’ve given religious people something constructive to do with their time: yell and pray and read the Bible ceaselessly, all to fight against… a sign.

This is almost as nonsensical as atheists gathering and reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World each time they see a sign telling non-Christians to either repent or face hell (signs which line the highways of many states).  But of course, these Christians (like people of other religions) have holy books as well as special powers that allow them to communicate directly with their over-Lord who tells them “the absolute truth,” and we don’t want to mess with that.

Longbrake, a member of Calvary Chapel Westgrove and a 40-year Orange County resident, said he and other Christians respect the atheists’ freedom of speech, but want their voices to be heard as well.

“There is no question that this billboard is unhealthy for our community,” he said.

Unhealthy? A billboard that says “Don’t Believe In God? You are not alone,” is unquestionably unhealthy? Dear Sir, was the billboard even meant for Christian consumption? My awfully godless, narrow-minded brain tells me that this billboard was meant to reach out to people who already have doubts about religion, who already suspect it is more likely that all religions are false than it is that only one of the millions that have existed is the one true one. It’s a message of solidarity to people who would otherwise feel ostracized by their religious community.

It doesn’t even say you should be an atheist, or that atheism is good, or that we should question God. It says that if you, despite all your effort, find that you just can’t believe, you shouldn’t feel alone. You should know that there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people around the world who agree with you and who’ve come to this conclusion independently in many different societies, with different religions, and in different times. You should know that the world is much larger than the community you come from, and that even when horrible things happen to people like Damon Fowler (kicked out of his “Christian” home and community), there are lots of people supporting you and your cause.

Orange County Christians, read the Bible and protest all you want. There’s greater work to be done.

If Christians Took Over Public Education

After all the prayers at graduation rehearsal, all the complaints by atheist Damon Fowler, all the insults and threats issued at him, all the drama involving his mother effectively disowning him, all the support from secular Netizens around the world, after donations totaling over $10,000 (and counting) for Fowler’s scholarship fund (in addition to $1000 from FFRF), the graduation at Bastrop High School finally happened.

In Christian form, unfortunately.

The sound is a bit off, so let me quote directly and translate.

I respect the beliefs of others, but…

Plug this into Google translate from Christianspeak –> English, and you’ll get this as output.

I claim to respect your beliefs, but I don’t give a shit about your constitutional rights. I’m going to lead everyone in Christian prayer in a publicly funded high school ceremony because I can’t stand the idea of praying silently and privately. Prayer must be in-your-face. Fuck all you nonbelievers if you don’t agree.

Not just any prayer, of course. Christian prayer, and Christian prayer only.

Of course, it’s useless trying to educate these people on basic civics. The only option we have left is to talk to them in a language that everyone understands: money.

The courts have ruled consistently that official prayer at a publicly funded ceremony, even if student-led, is government endorsement of religion and violates the Establishment Clause. The fact that prayer was rehearsed beforehand and no action was taken (e.g., the moment of silence could have been faculty-led) puts the final nail in their coffin.

Public education is for everyone and should be inclusive of everyone, not just people of one religion.

Inspiration of the day: Jessica Ahlquist.

A High Schooler Makes Us Proud, A Community Should Be Ashamed

Damon Fowler is a senior at Bastrop, a public high school in Louisiana. When he found out that his high school graduation ceremony would include Christian prayer, he shared his concerns with the principal and threatened to take legal action if his constitutional rights were to be violated.

As a result, the principal, Stacey Pullen, changed the program and agreed not to have official prayer at the ceremony.

For this, Damon Fowler was ostracized by virtually all his peers, many teachers, and even his mother. As his brother notes, the whole community is against him.

The town is creating mobs at churches as of last night to fight the decision of the school not to go through with the prayer (they didn’t want the ACLU breathing down their necks). Teachers have publicly insulted him.

One of those people was Mitzi Quinn, who said the following.

“And what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates,” Quinn said.

That’s right. That’s a faculty member dissing a student for not contributing ANYTHING (just so she can justify an action so unconstitutional that it baffles even the most religious of minds).

All of this is bad enough. But guess what? The school let the prayer happen anyways [at a rehearsal, I think]. This went on without interruption, cheered on by Christians.

You can even watch the video.

This is beyond insane. Mobs and mobs of people cheering like it’s a football game. It’s like they win because they have an overwhelming majority.

This is exactly why the separation of church and state is so important. This is why something so seemingly trivial to some – school led prayer – is so fucking important. They’ve proved our point. This girl used prayer as a weapon to separate the Good Christians from The Others. To alienate. To shun. To mock. And even more disgustingly, the community cheers along like a pack of warriors who have defeated their enemy, and laugh condescendingly at the mention of a moment of silence.

Of course, the likelihood that these people are going to make a clean escape is zero. This is so illegal that it’s going to cost the school and the district much more money than they could possibly imagine, and it’s already sparking absolute outrage in the secular community.

But as we wait and see what happens next, there’s one thing I want to say from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you, Damon Fowler. There’s a support group on Facebook, and as you can see, there are many many people supportive of you. There are millions and millions of people around the world not only supporting you, supporting your cause, supporting your right to be treated fairly, but very inspired by you and your courage to fight for what is right.

I’m fortunate enough to have never been in your situation before, and I can only imagine what it feels like. “It’s the loneliest feeling in the world,” as Henry Drummond says in Inherit the Wind.

It’s that feeling when you know nobody sees you for who you are. It’s that feeling when your own mother refuses to talk to you because you’re an “agnostic.” It’s that feeling when you realize “the whole town hates me, aside from a few closet atheists that are silently supporting”. It’s that feeling when you hear people preaching all about love, fairness, and compassion and see those same people acting in the most cruel and illegal ways possible.

Sometimes it sucks to be a high schooler. But let me tell you something. I couldn’t have imagined how different life would be in college. I went to high school in a liberal city, but I still didn’t realize how many opportunities I would get later in life to meet amazingly smart, compassionate, and tolerant people . There are true friends everywhere to be found, and the world is much much bigger than the community you come from.

So my readers, please support Damon by joining the Facebook group and reading the inspirational comments on the Wall.

There’s also a scholarship fund for Damon.