4th place: Grad student essay contest — Kyra Miller 

Kyra Miller

FFRF awarded Kyra $2,000.

By Kyra Miller 

Since the founding of the United States, secularism has been the law of the land. But this idea of a separation of church and state has never been favored in practice. Throughout history, religion, particularly Christianity, has crept its way into every branch of government and every social institution. Many institutions, from law enforcement to medicine to education, have ties to religion, and these ties have led to inequalities and injustices that are still being felt today. Although a comfort to many on an individual level, religion is a threat to the lives of many and the freedom of all. 

The threat that extreme religious views poses on society and individuals comes in many forms, one of the most prevalent being that of legislation. Every day, laws are being proposed and passed with the justification being nothing more than moral superiority on the basis of religion. These laws often help nobody directly but instead infringe on the rights of many, often minority populations, and put many people at risk for harm. These laws and orders are passed on the executive, legislative and judicial branches, elected officials often voting in favor of their own holy views rather than in the interest of their constituents. 

A study by the Pew Research Center found that about 88 percent of Congress identifies as Christian, compared to 65 percent of U.S. adults, and only 0.2 percent of Congress identifies as religiously unaffiliated, while 26 percent of U.S. adults identify as nonreligious. It is common on the debate floor to hear congresspersons profess that “their faith” makes them vote a certain way, as if faith has any room in government. 

But it is not just lawmakers who pose a risk to the lives of U.S. citizens. Extremist groups and terrorist groups have been increasing within the United States in recent years and these groups are often fueled by religious motivations. One report found that 67 percent of “terrorist plots and attacks” were carried out by white supremacist groups. The Department of Homeland Security named these groups as some of the most lethal threats within the United States. These far-right groups often use religious justifications for their attacks and activities and Christianity is often at the root of these justifications. The danger that these groups pose is often dismissed or minimized because the members of these groups often look like and share similar viewpoints as a majority of U.S. citizens. But their extremist nature and inflated ego from being unchallenged make these right-wing groups even more dangerous. Members of these groups could be anywhere, and anyone who does not agree with their beliefs could be their next victim. 

Religious extremists and their beliefs that everyone should hold the same views as them is also a threat to the science and medical community. This war between science and religion dates back thousands of years and today still inhibits many people from getting the help they need. Not only have medical professionals refused to give patients the medication or treatment they need because it goes against their personal beliefs, but so many people and children under the care of their religious parents are refused treatment because it goes against “God’s plan,” or they deem medical intervention to be unnatural. This action of forcing a person’s own beliefs onto others, especially vulnerable populations, is a danger to individuals and the collective. Scientific and medical advances will always fall behind as long as religion remains intertwined in the institutions that they are supposed to be separated from. 

The First Amendment states that people have the right to participate in any religion or no religion. This freedom to not believe can feel like an attack to people who choose to believe, but it is only faith in ourselves and our community without religious intervention that can fight against the dangers of religious extremism.

Kyra, 22, attends Rutgers University, where she is working toward a master’s degree in forensic science with a concentration in forensic biology.“I am hoping to build a career where I can work within a specialized interest and work in the processing of rape kits,” writes Kyra. “I want to have a part in rewriting the definition of justice so it can help to build a better future for everyone.

5th place: Grad student essay contest — George Jean-Babets

George Jean-Babets

FFRF awarded George $1,500.

By George Jean-Babets

In training to become a social worker, much of my education has surrounded ideas of diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural competence. In my personal experience, the dogma of religious extremism does not align with these principles. 

The National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics has various guiding principles, including social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, and integrity. Historically, religious extremist groups have infringed upon these guiding principles by spreading enmity and voicing their censure of marginalized groups. 

Religious extremism, as evidenced by radical agendas, tends to procure violence as seen in the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Extremism can be seen at the group level and individual level. Simplistic representations are often problematic and consequential in that they determine the perception of extremist groups. 

For example, following the Sept. 11 attacks, almost 70 percent of the U.S. security policies targeted Arabs and Muslims, since they were seen to be affiliated with the devotees of the extremist group al-Qaeda. It is crucial to be cognizant of bias born from stereotypes of what constitutes a “religious extremist.” It is important to be self-reflective by recognizing implicit biases and buried assumptions we all hold. 

In the essay, “Violent and Non-Violent Extremism: Two Sides of the Same Coin?,” Alex P. Schmid proposes that either for individuals or groups, the five warning signs of religious extremism include belief in absolute truth, endorsement of blind obedience, a quest to establish utopia, belief that the end justifies the means, and a declaration of holy war. 

One of the most dangerous instances of non-violent religious extremism involves public officials’ use of religion-based doctrine as conviction for legislation and public policy. Some officials see fit to govern a woman’s bodily autonomy by promoting increasingly restrictive laws that limit one’s ability to find reasonable access to abortion services. 

Regarding the public sphere, I value the First Amendment’s decree that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While I am no legal scholar, I believe this should mean that no member of the legislature should put forth policy based on religious edict. I respect this first section of the First Amendment because it also respects the free practice of religion and denounces religious persecution. 

Religious fundamentalist movements such as the Christian right and interest groups like the Family Research Council represent contemporary examples of religious extremism in the United States. Some sects of the Christian right advocate for the removal of sex education in schools, view the LGBTQ+ community as immoral, and believe in strict binary gender roles for men and women. 

The mission of the Family Research Council is “to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview.” This religion-based, biblical worldview holds political influence through its lobbying efforts. The Family Research Council opposes and lobbies against embryonic stem-cell research, abortion, pornography, divorce and LGBTQ+ rights (such as anti-discrimination laws, same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ adoption). 

While I firmly believe in the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs, contemporary religious nationalist groups represent an extreme platform for many ideas that are regressive and discriminatory. Religious nationalist groups denounce inclusion and multiculturalism in favor of an ideology more aligned with white supremacy. Religious extremism and much of its agenda remain a clear and present threat to the well-being and prosperity of people who call the United States of America home in the 21st century. 

George, 29, is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Boston College. “I am passionate about mental health and have an internship placement at the Department of Mental Health,” George writes. “I have bipolar disorder and have struggled through the extremes of mania and depression.”

6th place: Grad student essay contest — Benjamin Schreiner 

Benjamin Schreiner

FFRF awarded Benjamin $1,000.

By Benjamin Schreiner 

Religious extremism in the United States has always existed on the fringes of the church and larger population. Today, that extreme fringe has now successfully breached, in varied capacity, the mainstream within many Christian churches in the United States. This fringe brings with it not the morally righteous content typically preached, but rather hate, twisted biblical interpretations and conspiracies. What’s more, religious extremism has not just bled into the Christian mainstream, but also up through the political spectrum in the United States. 

Today, there are two primary threats associated with religious extremism in the United States. 

1) Many Christian constituents are being exposed to extremist ideology on an increasingly regular basis, therefore making extreme ideology “less extreme” in the eyes of Christians. 

2) Some Christian politicians within the U.S. government have begun to tolerate or agree with extremist ideology. Additionally, other politicians within the U.S. government understand that they need Christian voters to win elections and exploit or encourage extremist ideology to appeal to voters. 

Examples that show the connection between these threats are not hard to find. One must only look back to Jan. 6, 2021, to understand how these elements pose an active threat to the United States of America. On that day, thousands of people arrived in Washington, D.C., to protest the 2020 election results and, at the request of President Trump, to “stop the steal.” Around the National Mall, there was an abundance of Christian symbols, prayer groups and vendors. The presence of religion was not just a coincidence, and evidence shows that many of those who faced charges for their involvement in the insurrection referenced religious motivation as to why they decided to break into the Capitol building. 

One such person is Matthew Black, who on Jan. 8, 2021, posted a video on YouTube describing his experience inside the Capitol. Referencing an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint and arrest warrant, Black stated: “I wanted to get inside the building to plead the blood of Jesus over it. That was my goal.” Additionally, he said, “I just felt like the spirit of God wanted me to go into the Senate room, you know?” Statements like Black’s are not uncommon, as they are found in dozens of comments from those who talked about their motivations to act on Jan. 6, 2021.

When analyzing the events of that day and the religious context involved, comments such as Black’s only lead researchers to unravel how extremism has affected the larger Christian community and political sphere. 

In the same month as the insurrection, Lifeway Research, which assists Christian ministries by conducting custom research projects, found that 49 percent of Protestant pastors frequently hear members of their congregation repeating conspiracy theories they have heard. When the mass circulation of conspiracies, such as the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, are put into the echo chamber of a church congregation and then emboldened by elected politicians, events such as the Jan. 6 insurrection become possible. Additionally, within otherwise peaceful congregations, events like the insurrection are seen as a necessary undertaking at worst, or understandable at best, by many members of the Christian community. 

Secularism is necessary in the United States to preserve the foundation of American principles. The effects of religion on policy, be it abortion or immigration, are apparent. Unfortunately, often the results of politicians preaching what should be done because the bible says so are violent interactions of those who believe they must act. Some people are becoming encouraged to share and act upon their nationalist, racist and anti-immigration beliefs. With increased radicalization among Christians, more people will be willing to act upon what they believe to be true, predominantly when those beliefs originate from two highly influential sources: God and country. The leaders of this country need to be the example of peaceful debate and reason. When religion becomes involved in government, it offers people reasons to become extreme. They believe their country and their souls are at stake, and when that is the case, the extreme then becomes mainstream. 

Benjamin, 26, is a student veteran attending American University in Washington, D.C. Benjamin served for six years in the U.S. Navy and plans to pursue a career working within the U.S. government.

7th place: Grad student essay contest — Katherine Ferran

Katherine Ferran

FFRF awarded Katherine $750.

By Katherine Ferran 

On March 16, 2021, Robert Aaron Long killed eight people in Atlanta, targeting Asian employees of three different spas from which he may have frequented in the past to solicit sex work. Thus, the narrative emerged that Robert struggled with sex addiction, and his rampage was an expression of guilt over his uncontrollable urges. Even the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office leaned heavily on this narrative. A spokesperson described the mass shooter as a troubled-but-upright young man just having a “bad day.” He was even seeking treatment with his church, and sympathy from evangelicals everywhere poured in upon the discovery of this detail. Meanwhile, following this one mass shooting of many that shook the United States in 2021, outcry for gun control was this time accompanied by pleas for empathy and justice from the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, as well as from sex worker advocates. It baffled many of us that their outrage was matched with seemingly earnest sympathies for the killer. 

But, as Slate reporter Kelsy Burke pointed out, one may interpret “sex addiction” in this case to be a largely manufactured ailment created by evangelical Christian organizations to sell an entire industry of abstinence and control to young Christian men like Robert. The true ailment underlying sexual frustration and dysfunction in young white American men is the natural result of a culture that teaches them shame and entitlement in equal parts. The entitlement to objects of desire can perhaps be traced to the capitalist and patriarchal pillars of American culture, but I would argue that the shame has nearly exclusive roots in religion, namely Christianity. In the case of the sex addiction myth, the evangelical church has taken advantage of this legacy to take purity culture to its religious extreme.

What makes this a case of religious extremism is debatable. Defining religious extremism itself is already a complex debate waged between religious scholars, historians, sociologists, political scientists, etc. Some argue it is done at the individual level to seek martyrdom, others that it must be performed as a group toward a political goal. Most challengingly, there is difficulty in assessing if a belief is actually extreme within a community. I am choosing to emphasize the dimension of religious extremism that is identifiable by the normative restriction of behaviors as imposed by a religious group. In this way, Long’s actions are in line with an act of extremism in that he perceived his own deviation from his group’s teachings and took it upon himself to both correct himself and attempt to correct the world in honor of his beliefs. 

To clarify, the beliefs at the root of the violence are that sexual indulgence is wrong, and that simultaneously men cannot be expected to control their urges, topped off with racist notions of women of color being inherently more sexual than white women, and therefore greater sources of temptation. If Long had perceived his sexual desires as socially deviant and instead pursued therapy from a sex therapist without religious affinities, these beliefs may have been challenged. The objectification of women, the xenophobia surrounding AAPI people, and the use of violence as self-expression are symptoms of an American psychosis that secular scholars, doctors and activists work tirelessly to treat. I do not believe it is religion’s place to do the same. For a church to attempt to shape a multicultural society toward its own moral ideals under the guise of mental health and community support is now demonstrably a pathway by which religious extremism may flourish. 

Katherine, 26, attends Michigan State University. “I am a conservation ecologist seeking further education to break into the world of nature-based climate change solutions,” Katherine writes. “Don’t worry, my environmental science degree from a Catholic university was surprisingly secular. I currently work at a wildlife preserve in southeast Michigan and volunteer regularly as a corporate accountability researcher with Change the Chamber.”

8th place: Grad student essay contest — Lydia Taylor

Lydia Taylor

FFRF awarded Lydia $500.

By Lydia Taylor 

I was 2 years old on Sept. 11, 2001, when religious extremists first altered the fabric of modern American society. I was 21 years old on Jan. 6, 2021, when religious extremists struck again and attacked America and its principles. I don’t remember any details from Sept. 11. During the second attack, however, I was much more aware and could only watch in horror as insurrectionists chanting “stop the steal” and waving Christian flags stormed the Capitol. 

Although the immeasurable tragic impact of 9/11 on American society cannot be understated, the events of Jan. 6 reveal an intent perhaps even more malicious than that of the religious extremists who orchestrated 9/11. The insurrectionist and religiously fueled mob that stormed the Capitol was made up of Americans, not radicals from a faraway land. The violent mob that attacked not only our government buildings but also our elected officials came armed with weapons, zip ties and materials to erect crosses and even a noose. 

As I and countless others across the nation and across the world watched with bated breath, this mob pushed through barricades and security forces, while bright yellow signs reading “Jesus Saves” bounced above the crowd next to confederate, Trump 2021 and American flags. Yet, in the aftermath of this disturbing scene, during which it seemed American democracy was in its dying days, the bipartisan unity that swept Washington in the wake of 9/11 was nowhere to be found. Instead, our nation faced a stark divide between those who seek to protect American values and those that wish to twist them for their own gain and other malicious ends. The events of Jan. 6 have revealed what those in the secular community have long known: Christian nationalists pose a clear and present danger to American national security, the American people and American principles. The evidence is all around us. From coordinated legislation aimed at restricting voting rights to limiting the bodily autonomy of women and the freedom of the LGBTQ+ community. 

These issues are often grouped together under the term “culture wars,” but this is a mistake made at our own peril. We as a society should not underestimate the ability of the religious right, and Christian nationalists in particular, to create and perpetuate narratives that paint the secular community and others who seek to protect American principles and democracy as “dangerous radicals” seeking to destroy “true” American culture. 

Although America and its principles can signify many different things to different people, most can agree that America stands for freedom and liberty, although successfully ensuring these rights for all has been a struggle for more than 200 years. 

One of the most influential of these freedoms — so important, in fact, that it was ensured by the First Amendment to the Constitution — is this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In short, America was established to be a secular nation where those of different religions, and none at all, could live freely. That is precisely why the strategy of Christian nationalists is so dangerous. To seek to redefine the narrative of America to that of a Christian nation, governed by Christian principles is to delete all those who are “different” from the story of America and to corrupt and manipulate America’s founding principles.

In America, the case for secularism has always been present, though not always clear to all. Today, re-establishing separation of church and state is vital to the protections of other freedoms and to prevent the bastardization and destruction of American democracy. In a truly secular America, civil rights could be better ensured, and all religions could have the ability to practice freely. Those who are secular would be truly free from religious domination in public life. 

In sum, the case for secularism in America is strong, although it must be accepted by, and not forced on, the American people in order to be truly successful. 

In the wake of the most recent tragedy spurred on by religious extremists, and Christian nationalists in particular, our nation had a rocky start in 2021. But thankfully, Americans have always risen to past challenges to our nation’s founding principles. This time will be no different. Though the road ahead may seem uncertain and even polarized, this could be just the moment to rebuild and re-unify America on its founding principles: freedom, liberty and secularism. 

Lydia, 21, attends the University of Denver. She would like to become a foreign service officer and represent the United States abroad.

9th place: Grad student essay contest — Hanna Talsky

Hanna Talsky

FFRF awarded Hannah $400.

By Hanna Talsky 

Humankind has undoubtedly been participating in religion since before recorded history. From ancient Hinduism to modern-age Scientology, religion has been endlessly touted as a means of personal comfort and guidance to millions of people. What is too often overlooked, however, is what can only be described as a form of guilt-driven mind control that permeates today’s American culture in the form of extreme evangelical beliefs. In a country that was founded on religious freedom and escape from tyranny, it is all too apparent to those considered outsiders by the religious community that power-hungry religious zealots have burrowed their way into the deepest parts of our society. From national prayer breakfasts to “In God We Trust” plastered onto our currency to legislation being lobbied and enacted against reproductive health, there seems to be no limit to the dangerous ideals’ reach. 

Separation of church and state seems to be one of the most commonly ignored, albeit the number one, clauses in the Bill of Rights, which evangelical extremists typically claim and reference when disputing many social change attempts. The blatant disregard for this clause has been evident every year since the early 1950s. How can America claim to be a land of religious freedom with separation of religion and political decisions when, every year, thousands of high-ranking political officials gather to “pray” for our country? How can we trust these individuals to enact legislation that will benefit those who do not share those beliefs, when they hide this religious performance underneath the red, white and blue of patriotism? In truth, there is no regard for religious freedom, because the cash cow that has become the modern-day church has sunk its financial tentacles into the elected officials who swore to protect the very documents they disrespect with this disgusting display of Christianity. 

A direct result of the beginning of the National Prayer Breakfast was the enactment of the phrase “In God We Trust” becoming the nation’s official motto merely three years after the first breakfast was held. The level of lobbying and extreme belief it takes to make such a blanket statement for a country filled with millions of people who do not share that belief is frightening. Currency is an obviously essential aspect to American life, and flagrantly displaying the Christian victory on every last coin and bill is a slap in the face to those who refute those beliefs. This is textbook indoctrination, making it so there is no escape from Christianity. It is a banner that says, “There is no existing without Christianity, and we will prove it by plastering it all over the one thing every single citizen needs — money.” 

While the previous two examples are stomach-churning enough, they are hardly as outwardly hateful and violent as the religious fight against reproductive health. It is no surprise that a religion which has a strong foundation in anti-woman, pro-control rhetoric would twist and bastardize the text of the bible they claim to adhere to in order to control the bodies of its citizens. Despite continual disagreement from the scientific community, Christian extremists cling to the fallible claim that a fetus is a human baby that deserves to exist in and feed off of a mother host, no matter the danger or traumatic experience the already living mother must endure to bring that fetus to fruition. They scream behind their posters that they are pro-life, when in reality they are pro-birth, as they hardly advocate for continued care for the mother and the fetus once it’s born. They would rather see starving, traumatized, unloved living children than they would a woman making an informed choice about what to do with her own body that she inhabits in the developed nation with one of the highest maternal death rates on the planet. 

America needs to take a step back and recognize the damage that extreme religious beliefs have caused this country. We are imitating the infamous Dark Ages by retarding immense progress in the fields of science, education, legislation, health care and infrastructure all because of what is supposed to be individual beliefs meant to guide and enrich people’s lives. The immense financial power of the church needs to be reconsidered and ultimately disbanded in order to address the real issues of this country: incarceration, houselessness, mental health disease, gun violence, and civil rights. Only then will we see the true land of the free, and home of the brave. 

Hannah, 29, attends the Florida School of Massage. “I am a working mother of two, raising accepting and religion-free children. After suffering religious trauma in the ultra-Christian bible belt of Florida, I have made it my goal to ensure that my family will not suffer as I did.”

10th place: Grad student essay contest — Daniella Germonprez

Daniella Germonprez

FFRF awarded Daniella $300.

By Daniella Germonprez 

I sat across from her mute. The more she said, the more I couldn’t believe that I once shared her thoughts about the world. My mind had begun to wander to keep from arguing when I heard, “I think they just feel that voting against a Republican candidate would be voting against God.” Suddenly everything made sense. I began to recount images of the dozens of Trump flags I drove past on the way to my childhood home. Each had been mere accessories to the crosses decorating front doors of houses or centerpieces of car bumper stickers. I wondered what my life would have been like had I never left that town. 

Last year, I watched a lawyer fight against a rape exception in court. He explained that while it was terrible that a woman was assaulted and impregnated as a result, it had been God’s will. Quoting the bible, he explained that abortion was immoral and should not be allowed even in the case of the woman in the courtroom. My blood boiled as I listened to him speak, but it was clear the anger that I felt for him was ill-placed. 

This man truly maintained that God had planned for this woman to be unlawfully violated so that she could give birth to a specific embryo as part of a bigger plan. How do you combat that? According to him, the psychological health of this woman was not the cause for concern. It was not important that her body would go through torment without having chosen to do so. For the rest of her life, she would be reminded of her attack every day and forced to deal with the consequences of that. Perhaps even worse, the incredible guilt for feeling these things, knowing an innocent child searches for love and comfort, would be unbearable. With divine law unable to be modified, how can we update ours to favor all humans equally? 

One can reduce anxiety by having faith that everything happens for a reason, but the drawback in trusting anything without question comes at a much greater price. If ever there was a clear example of this, it was exhibited on the political stage during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency. Whether Trump was a man defending his religious ideals through heinous leadership is one issue, but what matters more is that masses of people support and agree with them. 

Based on biblical literature from a time vastly different than the one we live in today, modern worldviews are shaped. To have divine law, which cannot be changed due to a lack of direct communication with its maker, is a difficult place to be. With this mindset, much of our progress is stunted. 

Religious extremism is one of the most dangerous things in the world. It is easy enough for most Americans to agree with this when they read a news story about Muslims, but when Christians enact similar scenarios, it is somehow harder to see them in the same light. 

Secularism should be our goal if we wish to have a system that provides equal benefits to every human. It is ridiculous to supplement laws with a book written thousands of years ago, during which only a portion of the population had rights. 

The Declaration of Independence clearly states that government should be altered if it becomes destructive. It should be easy to see that when it comes to governing an extremely diverse population, secularism is the only option, but so far it has not been so. It will take time for our country’s entire population to accept that many reprehensible viewpoints derive from religious writings, but when we finally do, society will be catapulted forward. 

Daniella, 28, attends Vanderbilt University. “I am a native Floridian passionate about the environment, children and psychological health,” Daniella writes. “I have spent the last six years teaching art at a public elementary school in Key West, all the way to coaching the kids club at a rock-climbing gym in California.” 

Honorable mentions: Grad/older student essay contest

A hope for change

By Victoria Cheung 

Engaging with religious extremists about their beliefs quickly becomes fraught with emotion. Critical thinking gets brought to a standstill when these emotions are riled, leading to an even bigger problem: You cannot engage or change anyone’s minds. There is no discussion to be had; logic and science cannot penetrate defenses rooted in a wall of feelings. This is inhibiting the progress of our country and its fundamental belief in the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

Those in power weaponize religion for money, power and political gain. Religion numbs us to violence that would be unacceptable in any other country or context. It stokes hate and hypocrisy, yet select phrases in the bible justify these agendas. Secularism provides a path to new ideas and off comes the blindfold to religious and, in turn, racial bias. This allows empathy and understanding to blossom.

Victoria, 30, attends the University of Michigan. 

A threat to diversity 

By Kristen Chew

Religious extremists use their beliefs to degrade women instead of being accepting of the accomplishments that women have made. In worst case scenarios, misogyny can lead to different forms of abuse among women (including sexual). 

The forms of prejudice brought on by religious extremism can cause trauma or emotional damage that impairs self-worth. There have been protests, organizations and movements that have aimed to stand up against racism. A notable example is Black Lives Matter, a movement used to highlight racism and discrimination among black people. 

Religious extremism is commonly associated with sexism, racism, transphobia, dislike for immigration and toxic attempts to justify these extreme religious beliefs. With less exposure to religious extremism, individuals in the United States can further grow and thrive.

Kristen, 29, attends Lock Haven University. 

Theocracy rising 

By Brandon Cooper 

The most egregious and sly assaults on the democratic process are either pardoned or buttressed by religion.

Like all patriarchal religions, Christianity has no small obsession with controlling women and positing a secondary, subservient status as their inherent lot. It is simply reckless, callous, and myopic to take such draconian measures that threaten the lives and livelihoods of women. What’s more, the current refusal by many to receive the Covid-19 vaccine is, apart from a more generalized demonstration of the lack of information literacy amidst the American public, but a facet of the nation’s latent religiosity. In this instance, the dismissal of science, long a tenet of the white Christian radical, takes on a new and deadly salience. 

Brandon Cooper, 29, attends the California Institute of the Arts. 

Homeland enemies 

By Carina Garcia

The relationship between religious extremism and its violent history has existed for centuries. Many isolated combats have been executed in the name of religion. However, it has most recently become fueled by the technological advancements we have achieved in the 21st century.

Ever since the horrific act of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been keen on fighting terrorism and has taken pride in keeping its country safe. Yet, the enemy is already on American soil and has been wreaking havoc for years. For instance, an infamous extremist, Dylan Roof, murdered nine individuals at a church and was motivated by extreme Christian beliefs. He was radicalized by ideologies he found on the internet and carried out one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in a place where people go to find comfort.

An extremist, Robert Lewis Dear, decided to take matters into his own hands. He entered an abortion clinic in Colorado and killed three people and injured nine more. He believed that death was the only solution to end abortion, and he had a deep admiration for the Army of God, a Christian terrorist organization.

Carina, 23, attends California State University, Stanislaus. 

Growing up in extreme religion

By Daniella Leon 

Religious extremism has not only affected me in my rights as a citizen, it also has impacted my life since childhood. I grew up in an intense Christian household where my mother’s religion was the core of all decisions.

Questioning Christianity is unacceptable, not following the bible is a sin and eternal damnation is the punishment. 

The topic of sex was taboo. We were expected to save ourselves for marriage and boyfriends were completely off-limits.

Time went on and my home life got more and more tense, and I was a prisoner. I was not allowed to have my own relationship; I was not allowed to talk to who I wanted to talk to, and the most dangerous lesson being forced upon me, was my body was not mine, it was God’s. 

Extreme religion is not about true beliefs or spirituality, it is about control. The rules and expectations from extreme religion remove most human rights and that is why secularism is so important.

Daniella, 29, attends Mesa Community College. 

Secularism for the people 

By Lawrence Mullen 

Across the United States, Christian nationalist and religious extremist rhetoric and ideology becomes apparent in state legislatures and acts of physical violence. Anti-
LGBT and anti-
transgender legislation is rampant, and particularly targets school-aged K–12 children and adolescence. Given that we know there is a high correlation between mood disorders and suicidal ideation, and sexuality and gender identity, it is particularly appalling and malicious to target youth that are still formulating their identity and their position in the world. 

It is the source of a type of logic that denies others their ability to thrive, and in many cases simply survive; with the logic itself being considered “self-evident” by other Christian nationalists, and therefore not needing additional justification. 

Lawrence, 25, attends the University at Buffalo. 

Undoing extremism 

By Scout K. Myracle 

As a Southern queer person raised in a fundamentalist Christian church, I have experienced firsthand how religious extremism creates a traumatizing culture for young people. Pastors and people in power use shame and to enforce a standard, and often single out teenagers who exhibit any characteristics they find unpalatable. It’s common to see families divided by these issues, and individuals ostracized for not conforming to the dominant structure. Religious fundamentalism pushes LGBTQ people into the margins, and severely traumatizes them in an attempt to use shame to control the purity of
the congregation, state, or nation.

Religious extremism has long been used as a tool of control to benefit a very small minority of powerful people. When these people in power can manage to create a collective narcissism, they succeed in weaponizing an entire population against whomever it is they intend to “other,” outlaw or destroy.

Scout, 28, attends the University of Memphis.

The price our planet must pay

By Jenna Slater 

Thanks to religious dogma and the individuals driving its rhetoric, we find ourselves in a race against the clock. Without a plan B, no matter how many billionaires decide to embark on a joy ride to space, this planet is the only home we have. Thanks to religious extremism, we are killing it and are unable to even engage in a conversation about how to give Mother Earth a fighting chance. 

Jenna, 30, attends the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Inhumane actions

By Daniel Spaulding 

Citizens of the United States are given rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. Through centuries of amendments and developments, these rights have shaped the course of American society. There are times, however, when these rights are infringed upon. Though freedom of religion is clearly outlined in the Constitution, religious extremists distort this established human right — among others — in order to mold followers, push agendas, and justify actions that prove disastrous for everyone involved. 

Due to these extremists’ methods, concerns have been raised for young Americans in the 21st century. Because these young Americans are shielded from an objective point of view, it lessens the likelihood of them being exposed to the objective realities around them. Because these young Americans don’t learn the freedoms they’ve been inherently given, it lessens the likelihood they give those same freedoms to others. This not only leads to a continual distortion of the Constitution, but also provides devastating consequences for their lives, the lives of their fellow Americans, and future generations to come. 

Daniel, 25, attends Concordia Seminary.

Extremist Christianity

By Myranda Sullivan 

Many Christians believe that non-Christian scientists are trying to prove that God doesn’t exist more than they’re trying to figure out how the world works. Many facts we know to be true, such as carbon dating, have been “proven” wrong by Christian “scientists” in an effort to prove that God exists, science is wrong, and the bible is right. This has caused a significant amount of distrust of scientists in the Christian community, especially around areas of larger significance, like vaccines and climate change. 

Even though many Christian extremists can see the effects of what religion does to governments, they often rationalize that what’s happening in other countries won’t happen here because it’s their own religion. There is absolutely no proof that a government works more efficiently for the people when it’s run by religion; it’s never had a long-term success rate for the people in any country. 

Myranda, 28, attends Arizona State University. 

Secularism saves

By Chelsea Westfall 

When religious groups come up with laws banning abortion at detection of a so-called “fetal heartbeat,” however, that is entirely unreasonable. These “heartbeat” bills misunderstand what a sonogram is picking up at eight weeks: those sounds are electrical activity in cells, not the pounding of a developed human heart that proves viability. Remember, an extremist’s goal is not to have a nuanced discussion over when abortion might be deemed wrong; it is to outlaw abortion entirely. 

Churches, of course, have a vested interest in condemning abortion. The more children their flock has, the more tithing and political support they can expect later, because children tend to carry on the belief systems they were taught growing up.

America’s women will remain free and healthy only so long as religious freedom is truly the law of the land. 

Chelsea, 29, attends Northern Arizona University. 

A nation under fire

By Cassidy Yñigez

Christian nationalists want to define America as inextricably linked to Christianity and wish to utilize this religious culture as an official template for how and what our country represents. Furthermore, Christian nationalists strive to incorporate this mentality into schools, restrict immigration to avoid religious “pollution,” and believe that Christians are entitled to primacy of place in the social hierarchy due to their role in America’s founding heritage.

Under a Christian government, the right to abortion would be gone completely with (maybe) rare exceptions. The conflict between these is that people who are not pro-life lose their choice, but those who are pro-life gain the right to control those who lost said choice — thus emphasizing an unjust power dynamic.

Cassidy, 23, attends Texas A&M University.

Barbara G. Walker: Religions grew out of utter dependence

Barbara G. Walker

By Barbara G. Walker

It has been scientifically proven that humans evolved from earlier apelike forms by overdevelopment of the brain at the expense of the physical body. In the womb, physical growth of the fetus slows down at the period when brain growth is foremost. Thus, through a process called infantilization, humans are better able than other animals to think, to imagine, to create, to solve problems and to invent language for communication. However, humans have inferior senses and strength than other animals. The fittest human athlete has nowhere near the muscle power or the keen environmental awareness of the average of what we snobbishly call the “lower” animals.

As a result of this infantilizing process, humans are born much more helpless than other creatures. Human babies can’t get themselves to the teat for milk, as other infant mammals can. They must be picked up and carried and cared for, all day, every day, for many months. During this time, the brain takes in a huge amount of knowledge while the body lags. What the human infant experiences before and above everything else is its own utter helplessness, the need to be cared for by a giant being, much stronger and wiser, who voluntarily supplies all the infant’s needs — the mother. The infant has a primal, inborn need for her nurturing touch. Being fed and hugged and rocked into soothing sleep is the first experience of bliss.

That deepest, most essential feeling of utter dependence naturally affects the human psyche, that keen creator of answers to our questions. It inevitably creates humankind’s first deity, the Great Mother, who supposedly created everything and supplies everything and loves her children and teaches them the basics of behavior. To follow her instruction is natural, to disobey her might prove dangerous and is a sin. Language makes it possible to transmit her description throughout the community, and to create methods of worship that presumably communicate with her and ensure her goodwill.

It is that bone-deep feeling of helplessness that is never quite outgrown, affecting a majority of human beings throughout our history, and making ever more elaborate images of a presumed spirit world of superior intelligence, ready to hear prayers and watch over us.

When fatherhood was finally recognized and father gods were created, the same characteristics persisted, though the father god tended to be more strict and his punishments more terrible. For what could be more appalling than the eternity of torture that the patriarchal priesthood invented? They finally managed to eliminate the mother goddessses as “pagan” to destroy or appropriate their temples, to murder their priestesses as “witches” and to overturn female ownership of property and family names, though the process took many centuries.

Now we have a paternal god who claims to be the sole source of everything and serves as the single authority figure that our infantilization needs to envision, embodying a promise of eternal bliss. But for those of us who have outgrown this imaginative/emotional dependence, he is obviously as ridiculous as all the numerous deities of the past, or the other supernaturals we have invented: fairies, gnomes, vampires, ghosts, angels, demons, dragons, giants, werewolves, elves or monsters. He has no other substance than our hot air (language) and serves mainly to make unbelievable amounts of money for the organizations that continue to reinforce his image. The childlike souls in our majority keep him going, and it is the perfect scam — getting rich by making promises that never have to be kept.

FFRF Lifetime Member Barbara G. Walker is a researcher, lecturer and author of 24 books.

E pluribus unum or survival of the fittest?

This column first appeared on FFRF’s FreethoughtNow.com blog website on Dec.6, 2021.

By Dr. Karen Heineman

E pluribus unum
Dr. Karen Heineman (Photo by Chris Line)

The world closed down while I was on spring break during my last year of law school. I left school never to come back. Initially the plan was to, hopefully, return to life as we knew it a month later. Having knowledge of infectious disease, I knew that a global pandemic would not be contained within a month; I hoped for one year. Two years later, we are facing yet another variant of the Covid-19 virus: the omicron.

To control the virus and end the pandemic, the Freedom From Religion Foundation advocates for vaccine mandates — sadly viewed by many as assaults on personal autonomy rather than a collective effort to fight a global infectious disease. The truth is, however, that a personal decision to avoid vaccination affects us all.

E Pluribus Unum” (from many [come] one) is our nation’s motto. It is also a phrase that captures the essence of herd health. As a veterinarian, I use the herd health principle. For vaccines to improve herd health, a critical number of the herd has to be vaccinated within a certain timeframe. The goal is to create a viral firewall. Once the virus runs out of bodies to infect, it cannot continue to spread. If the entire herd is not vaccinated, or not vaccinated in a timely fashion, the spread of the virus may be initially slowed, but the delay allows the virus to mutate to improve its ability to infect.

Once we were fortunate to have vaccines developed to fight Covid-19 and health care professionals started explaining the concept of herd health, I felt comfortable that the end to the pandemic was on the horizon.

The development of new variants of Covid-19 is used as evidence by some people that the vaccines are not working. The problem, however, is not with the vaccines, but with our resistance to investing in our herd health. Currently, the “pluribus” is not supporting the “unum.” We did not reach the necessary number of vaccinated bodies to set up a firewall. Instead, we have new variants and the pandemic continues.

Fortunately, most people infected with Covid-19 will recover and some never suffer any symptoms, but, with each new variant, we run the risk that these characteristics will change. Rather than taking advantage of the current state of the viral disease and protecting herd health with vaccination, we continue to play Russian roulette. When will the effects of the pandemic be severe enough, or personal enough, that a critical mass of citizens will be willing to invest in our country’s herd health? We already hold the ignominious record for the country with the most deaths due to Covid-19. And we have surpassed the death total for the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. The Greek alphabet only has 24 letters.

As a scientist, I am disheartened that we cannot improve upon our response to a pandemic in comparison to a century ago, because the science and technology behind the vaccines is truly amazing. We are creating more effective and safer vaccines, and we did so in record time for Covid-19. Rather than supporting these monumental efforts, people point to the novelty of the vaccines as a reason to distrust them or point to other diseases for which we don’t have vaccines, suggesting that there is some insidious motive behind creating the vaccines for this disease. The reality is that not all diseases are created equally; vaccination is not applicable to all diseases. We should embrace the fact that we can utilize vaccines for this disease. Vaccination certainly provides personal benefits, but, more importantly, it improves herd health and is an avenue to ending this pandemic. Let’s trust the amazing science and protect our herd.

Instead, not only have we not met our herd health goals, but we may set a record for the number of court cases arguing for personal exemptions from vaccine mandates. To be clear, there are medical reasons for exemptions because some diseases and medications alter the immune system’s response to vaccines. Herd health can still be achieved when a small number of people are exempted due to the likelihood that their health would be adversely affected. Vaccinating the remainder of the herd is even more important for these vulnerable individuals because they also face an increased likelihood of morbidity and mortality due to infectious disease. Once we start entertaining exemptions for personal liberty or religious freedom reasons, we quickly lose the ability to protect the herd. When did our national motto become “Survival of the Fittest”?

We have the technology. Trust the science. Get vaccinated to protect our herd. We will all benefit when this pandemic is contained. E pluribus unum.

Dr. Karen Heineman is FFRF’s Legal Fellow. She has been a practicing veterinarian in Wisconsin since 1992. She also graduated magna cum laude from Marquette University Law School in 2020.