Honorable mention — Evan Malcolm: A matter of perception

My rejection of religion stems from growing up in the church, specifically that of the Baptist denomination. During this time, around the age of 10 or 11, I began asking questions about the bible and God to my grandmother and the pastor at our church.

Questions and contradictions arose, such as, “Why does God let people suffer if he is all-knowing?” and “Wouldn’t that just make him a cruel father who has favorite children?” I continued to ask questions like this to the point where I was called a heathen and nonbeliever and was accused of having a lack of faith. I decided to seek the answers myself and see if the bible held any of them.

Unfortunately, I did not find the answers I was looking for but instead found more contradictions and questions than answers. I was especially confused about the level of blind faith and devotion when prayers weren’t answered. The mundane response was that “God works in mysterious ways.” However, when circumstances went in favor of someone’s prayer, it became an even deeper affirmation of their faith, as I saw with several of my family members and friends.

The rejection of religion and adoption of atheism solidified itself as I started finding logical conclusions to rational questions I held previously. The entrance into college and the exposure to people of different cultures, due to my major in social work and the many organizations I joined out of leisure once I entered college, also helped me to see many religious practices firsthand. My upbringing, coupled with my inquisitive mind and the fact that I am gay (which is in direct contrast with many religious beliefs), further strengthened my atheism. I studied the five major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism) in depth and then many Caribbean religions (Santeria, Candomblé, Voodoo, Obeah, Rastafari). My interpersonal knowledge of religions through friends and acquaintances, along with the knowledge base gained from my classes, helped me see just how similar most religious beliefs are, despite the many wars (Crusades, Inquisition, etc.) that have been fought over their inherent differences. Due to this knowledge, I’ve come to accept that all religions are true and false. For many religions, there is the unyielding insistence that their sole beliefs/deity/god are the one true way to salvation/heaven/nirvana, which leads to the theory that they are either all wrong or all right. Either way, someone in the group is wrong, which makes it more plausible that religion is completely a humanmade concept that is used as a tool used to divide and control, not unite, and is inherently against the progression of humanity.

Evan Malcolm

Many struggles come from being a triple minority (black, atheist, gay), and most of them come to light when interacting with people of my own race and my family. It is automatically assumed that I am Christian and straight when I walk into the room as a black male. Having to navigate social interactions as the opposite of those assumptions is an exhausting and daunting task, but one I am intimately familiar with. Typically, I avoid all conversations concerning matters of sexuality or religion for the reasons stated above. However, if they do arise, I simply say, “I’m not religious.” If sexuality is discussed or someone asks me directly about my sexuality, I respond with the fact that I am gay. I do so respectfully and without aggression or judgment so that the information is received by those around me in a factual sense versus an argumentative one. One of the more frustrating aspects is having to be considerate of others’ religious beliefs while they in turn often do not respect my decision to remain atheist/agnostic. Unfortunately, those who are a minority within the minority will always have to be aware of the social setting they are in and adapt accordingly.

Evan, 21, is from Plantation, Fla., and attends the University of South Florida. He is a political activist, especially when it comes to mental health advocacy and LGBT rights. He plans to obtain a juris doctorate degree after his undergraduate years and hopes to become a legislator or lobbyist.

 

 

 

 

Honorable mention — Shejan Heaven: Discovering the unknown

I’ve always had an innate passion for science and what its findings could do for my parents, my grandmother and me. Like a seed that had just been planted, I knew my pursuit of knowledge would only grow. Instead of watching cartoons, I found myself feeding my hunger through documentaries, particularly on undiscovered parts in space. Like the universe, knowledge is endless. The breaking point was when I realized science is a tunnel. This tunnel has no end, but if I hold on tight, I will come across countless questions, solutions, cures and knowledge that will broaden our views on human potential. I also believed the purpose of scientific discoveries is to apply these findings to help human life. This led me to pursue a career in biology with a concentration in neuroscience.

The biggest wall that stood between my dreams as a doctor was my family’s Islamic faith. Like most monotheistic religions, Islam is seen to have all of the answers. Our existence, our purpose and everything that makes up our reality is published in the Quran and we are not allowed to question it.

Although the teachings of Zakat (giving a portion of income to charity) was beautiful, I could not apply these teachings to my life in literal terms. Many do not realize religion is so powerful to individuals because naturally we fear the unknown. While afraid and unsure, we seek solace by relying on a higher power that promises us answers in exchange for following a life role. There are many issues with this mindset; this skews followers to relieve themselves of their responsibilities because they are centered around “God’s plan.” What sets me aside from people tied to religious ideologies is I do not seek comfort in the unknown nor do I fear it. Instead I want to explore and research this empty space around us.

Although my personal observations have impacted my decision to disregard religion, well-known scientists have given me the concrete evidence I need to reject religion in all aspects of my life. My favorite scientist and author Richard Dawkins wrote the 2006 best seller The God Delusion that argues the behavior religious followers exemplify are similar to the behavior of those who suffer from hallucinations and delusions, thus deeming religion harmful to one’s mental health. What I enjoyed most of about The God Delusion is that it did not try to disprove God, but rather critiqued religion itself and its

psychological effects. The external harm religion has had on humans, such as war, segregation and its role in social issues is obvious, however, many scientists and freethinking advocates have not touched on the negative psychological effects. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s arguments against an almighty God do support my freethinking views, but I focus more on rejecting religion and the traditions it entails.

The challenges I face from my family and community consist of fear rhetoric. The Muslim community consistently tells me my views are haram (sinful) and I will burn in eternal suffering. I am told Islam is the only way to heaven and I need to accept the faith into my life before I get married and have children. However, I do not consider the remarks I receive from my family

Shejan Heaven

as challenges. I overcame the challenge of finding myself and the person I want to be through medical research and science. After studying the behavior of people who are tied to religious ideologies, I am led to understand their rhetoric. Religion was created because we fear death. The tips I have to offer for the freethought movement is to always encourage freethinkers to research and question everything you see. This world has more to offer than what you are settled to believe. Religion can be beautiful, but reason and logic will always prevail.

Shejan, 19, is from Atlanta and attends the University of Georgia. She enjoys playing the violin and tutoring children to become musicians. She also volunteers at a local library and a food bank. Shejan hopes to attend medical school after graduation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable mention — Alexandra Harmon: A wolf in black sheep’s clothing

As a black American, Christianity runs through my veins. I’m thankful for it in a way and I dislike it in other ways. Christianity is the reason I am alive, but I cannot rejoice when so many others who look like me are dead.

One of Christianity’s core pillars is fear. Followers must fear God, fear their own thoughts, fear hell. I hate it, but where would I be without that fear? The unknown scares countless people and yet, only some create god(s) to hide the fact that the world is chaotic. Despite this, I know the world isn’t evil because good things can happen just as randomly as the bad. I would know.

Abortion. I am conflicted about it myself. To take or to nurture life seems like an easy question, but it isn’t. It was a battle for my mom. Although she is a Christian and doesn’t believe in abortion, she thought about having one with me. When I found out I was angry, but I remembered my older brother, who will be turning 38, was going in and out of prison ever since he was in high school. I would never want that for my kid. Maybe, aborting me in my mom’s mind would’ve been her version of saving me from some ill fate. But she didn’t, because she feared suffering in hell if she went through with it. I’m grateful to be alive, but I wish that the threat of burning in hell wasn’t the reason. I wonder if anything positive, like love, can be built off of something negative such as fear?

I am aware of what my family would say to my story: “You are here for a purpose and you should be thankful to God for it.” I don’t feel that way though. I don’t understand how black people can believe in Christianity. Their acceptance of it stems from white slave masters wanting to pacify black people. The idea was that if black people were “good slaves,” they could receive a slice of heaven; meanwhile, slave masters feasted on the whole pie that black people died to pick the fruit for. It’s weird because sometimes I wish I believed. I want to believe that somehow all of the evil and cruelty in the world made sense, to believe that everything happens for a reason and that the world isn’t chaos. I wish I felt that my mom kept me solely because she loved me, not because of her fear of burning in hell. But I can’t and won’t.

I don’t think that my other family members would handle it well, so I’ve only told my mom and brother. I lie when needed and try not to mention being an

Alexandra Harmon

atheist to any other family members. My mom’s worried about me because I’m going to “burn in hell.” I can’t say that I don’t mind, because it does hurt a little when she says that. My brother ignorantly jokes that I worship Satan. My roommate would always insinuate my being an atheist meant I had a lack of morals. All in the day of the life of a black atheist. Christianity is so intertwined with blackness in America that a black atheist sounds like an oxymoron. Atheism is almost never a choice for black kids, no matter how we feel. At least, that’s what we are led to believe. But, it shouldn’t matter what we are led to believe. We should be able to choose what to believe. There’s nothing freer than that. So, when I’m left out of activities with my roommates and friends every Sunday morning, I don’t care. I am slowly coming to terms with being a lone wolf among black sheep.

Alexandra, 19, is from Salisbury, Md., and attends Howard University. She volunteers to help Hispanic students learn English and also works 30 hours a week during school to pay for her rent and bills.

 

 

 

Honorable mention — Kelvin Martinez: How do you say ‘atheist’ in Spanish?

When I was younger, I used to love reading. I was obsessed with books, especially those that explained the world. Eventually, I became fascinated with Greek mythology and stories. They were epic tales of adventure, loss and explanations of how the world came to be, all things that help capture a child’s mind.

A few years later, when I was 12, I had a crisis with my beliefs. At this time, my mother took me to church a few times a month. I had the stories of the Greeks and stories of Christ with me, the only difference being that Christ was supposedly real and the Greek stories were but epic fantasies. This was the year I was put into a middle school science class. I loved it, I was naturally curious about the world and wanted answers to everything. When we came to questions about evolution, other children asked why this was never mentioned in their bible class. The teacher tried to give a neutral answer about the natural progression of life, but it didn’t go well, and the more zealous children began to ask more questions. It was at this moment I brilliantly decided to raise my hand to speak: “I’m Christian and what you’re saying isn’t true. I’m offended.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt a tug. Frankly, I felt like a puppet dancing on its string. I thought to myself, “That wasn’t me speaking. That wasn’t my idea. Why did I say that?” This was when my “faith” began to slip. For the rest of the year after that moment, I read more about the bible and Christianity, trying to reaffirm why what I was taught was right and true. The funny thing was, you could replace God with anyone in Greek mythology, and it would make the same amount of sense. If the beliefs of the Greeks were false, what made Christianity true? The answer — nothing. All I saw were appeals to emotion, circular logic, fallacies and bad arguments. Why should I believe? Why was something told to be a fundamental fact so hard to prove?

I finally ended up telling my mother, and she was decidedly less than pleased. We argued and yelled for many months. In the end, I still don’t believe she accepted me, but we are still family. I went to church with her a few more times because it was important to her. Meanwhile, the words of the priest rang hollow in my ears. Now, I am an unabashed atheist. I am not afraid to speak up or to debate. Being an atheist to me is evidence that I can think critically, that I was able to escape the grip of indoctrination, that I can assess truth from fiction. It means I am intellectually honest. When confronted with a question that I cannot answer, I am unafraid to say “I don’t know” rather than presume to know an answer. Interestingly enough, I ended up going to a Catholic high school right after I became a comfortable atheist.

Being Hispanic and an atheist is honestly an awful situation. I hate to give credit to stereotype, but many Hispanics are very religious. This causes many freethinking Hispanics to be completely alienated from their community,

Kelvin Martinez

despite their familial bonds. I encourage all minorities to question their own beliefs and not be afraid of the actions of their community. The freethought movement only needs to have welcoming arms to minority atheists. Giving people a community they feel comfortable in goes a long way. Most importantly, talking to others about how to walk within a religiously dominated world, how to be a good person without religion, and to have pride in freethought.

Kelvin, 18, is from Portland, Ore., and attends Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He hopes to see the world and use it to gain perspective on how others live. 

 

 

 

Honorable mention: Anissa Foster: Dangerous woman

There is a chamber in de Young art museum beyond the Dali and the Monet, behind a hallway of Victorian thrones and relics from Teotihuacan. There is a golden doorway leading to an empty space — but nothing in this place attracts the flashing cameras of the city’s tourists. The first piece you see is a Frederic Edwin Church piece, “Rainy Season in the Tropics.” It’s an image that doesn’t leave you easily. An iridescent glamour shot of a lilac morning in a foreign paradise, the sheen of its mist sculpting rainbows that glow off the canvas.

I turn my attention to the glass woman in the center of the room. A woman of peace and prosperity, a mother and a daughter. I face my paradise of wild women in that painting and I am reminded that this paradise is long lost.

Nawal El Saadawi planted these wild seeds when I first tasted her tropical elixir on a lazy Sunday, with Woman At Point Zero propped on my knees and the moonlight resting on my face. She led me through Egypt’s prisons of pain and brothels of beasts. I witnessed daughters become women: their rape, their genital mutilation, their oppression. The way the corners of the mayor’s lip lift when new servant girls dance into his room and the way he breaks out in a smile when they limp out of it. The way women sell their bodies at a price or how they accept marriage as an alternative form of payment. All women are prostitutes of one kind or another.

Their objectification is justified by “religion.” The nation of Egypt and its sectors place God over emotion. They spill blood to blush their cheeks in the eyes of God. Faith is the mechanism that keeps children bound, men bowed and women silent. The ruling men use this rhetoric to distract the people from the cobra that is slowly coiling around them, crushing them as they pray.

Men, women and children are preyed on because of their faith. Unfortunately, women are more than willing to submit themselves to a higher power, making them beautiful little lambs circled by lions.

Faith is the acceptance of what we imagine to be true, but that which we can never prove. God is a perfect scapegoat, a perfect motivator. No one can prove he doesn’t exist and no one can question his intentions. These men whisper the word of God into their female victim’s ears while they pillage and destroy their innocence, their purity. They cut off their female pleasure and ostracize their joy. They use God to justify their own power, their own thrones.

The religious texts didn’t fall from heaven. We made them. In tumultuous times, we forge relics that transform our societies and unite us. Thus, our faith finds its origins in fabrication, a concept at the center of Saadawi’s spider web. Faith is a way to process the unprocessable. To answer questions we have not asked. To justify wars we have not waged. We believe, word for word, in metaphors and allegories of books that were written millennia ago.

Yet women cannot live life from under their veil anymore. Cannot bow to the phallic representation of Allah, watch their sisters die, or live as little broken girls. So, they burn themselves alive and from th

Anissa Foster

eir ashes, these lambs emerge as lions.

Nawal El Saadawi professed that she is a dangerous woman because she is “speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous.” I have seen what it means to suffer and I have felt what it means to be female. We are not at liberty to play dress-up anymore. As her characters raise their bloody fists in revolt, as Saadawi raises her pen, I raise my head because, like them, I am becoming a dangerous woman.

Anissa, 18, is from Union City, Calif., and attends Stanford University. She plans to be the first in her family to graduate from college. She has been a volunteer for Woof Animal Rescue and has helped clean coastal beaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable mention — Joseph Florida: My experience as a skeptic of color

From my early childhood, I have always questioned ideas and occurrences that lacked tangible evidence. Growing up as a black male who was incapable of swallowing the religion pill in the heart of the Bible Belt oftentimes made things uncomfortable. When I look back at my youth, I was always an atheist. I was just forced to remain silent due to societal pressure. I believe this is the reason many individuals lie to themselves, but I realized the only thing worse than experiencing more discrimination would be to continue living a lie.

I would consider my journey to atheism is a little unique. In my experience, most atheists arrived at accepting reality through scientific education and/or actually reading their “sacred text.” I know that the demonstrative nature of science is much more reassuring than religion, and if people critically read their holy book, continuing to adhere to faith would be less plausible. Yet, neither of those two were what completely brought me to reason; it was history. I love history because it allows me to analyze the past, which I have come to learn is the best indicator of the future. Of course, when I began seriously studying history, I came to realize it was completely at odds with most religions.

I discovered religion was utilized by ancient humans to explain that which was beyond their comprehension. Ancient assumptions that accredited many natural phenomena to gods are things easily explained by modern science. In fact, history shows religion has always been at odds with science and, in reality, impedes human progress. Conversely, the conservative and regressive behavior was not what offended me most, it was its oppressive application throughout history. I learned that religion, especially Christianity, was simply a tactic employed by imperialist colonizers and tyrants. It was an excuse for absolutist monarchs to rule with ruthless indifference and for European explorers to murder and enslave foreign peoples.

It is ironic that atheism is seen as a “white man’s movement” when no individuals have been harmed more so by Christianity than minorities. The story of Ham and Noah was routinely cited to prove God’s condoning of slavery. In fact, slave owners often had the audacity to believe slavery was to the benefit of slaves because it exposed them to Christianity. Also, when it came time to slaughter the indigenous populations and to justify the land grab known as the Mexican-American War, all was justified, since God wanted them to realize manifest destiny. It is very ironic that Christianity, which claims to be a religion of love, is often used as an implement of suppression. However, I am not surprised since the first half of the “good book” worships a violent and tribal god who only cared about the Jews. The second half is even worse, as it is the basis of a blood cult for a supposed deity who was born of a virgin birth, performed miracles and then sacrificed himself to his father. It even denies all historic reason by having this take place during the Roman Empire, a society

Joseph Florida

known for keeping impeccable records. Yet there are no primary sources, eyewitness accounts or records of any kind outside of the bible which could support Jesus’ existence.

This is just a deceptive medium that has been used throughout history to subjugate and deny human rights; as is the current case with women’s reproductive rights being attacked and members of the LGBTQ community not having been permitted to marry. I embraced truth by studying historical facts and reality. I implore anyone living in silence, especially of a minority background, to research for themselves. Do not be afraid to start down your own path toward reason.

Joseph, from Zachary, La., is attending Southern University A&M College. He enjoys history and studying languages and calls himself an enthusiastic volunteer.

 

 

Don’t delay! Sign up for FFRF’s convention

Join the Freedom From Religion Foundation in San Francisco for its 41st annual convention from Nov. 2-4 at the beautiful downtown Hyatt Regency.

The conference hotel features dramatic architecture, panoramic views and a waterfront setting, directly across from the iconic Ferry Building. If you’ve got some free time during the convention, you can explore the vibrant Embarcadero district, or head a bit further to explore famous attractions like Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, or ride the ferry to Alcatraz.

The Hyatt features the world’s largest hotel lobby at 17 stories tall with 42,000 cubic feet of space. Each room features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking cityscapes or the San Francisco Bay and comes with complimentary Wi-Fi and enhanced video streaming capabilities from mobile devices or tablets to the in-room 47-inch HDTV.

Speakers

We’re gonna get serious about laughing! Julia Sweeney and Leighann Lord will bring their respective comedy routines to the convention. Sweeney will do a version of her stand-up show, “Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider” on Friday evening, and Lord will perform her “Real Women Doing It Standing Up” routine on Saturday night.

Other speakers include Salman Rushdie, Cecile Richards, Adam Savage, John de Lancie, Debra Deanne Olson, Ensaf Haidar, Bailey Harris, Dan Barker, FFRF attorneys, Sarah Haidar and Rep. Jared Huffman. (For information on who will be receiving FFRF’s numerous awards at the convention, turn to page 23.)

Lord has been seen on Lifetime, VH-1, Comedy Central, HBO and The View. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and the author of Leighann Lord’s Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget (2014) and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady (2016).

Leighann was New York City’s face of the “African-Americans for Humanism” outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and its “Millions Living Happily Without Religion” campaign. Leighann was featured in author Chris Johnson’s The Atheist Book: A Better Life.

Sweeney is a “Saturday Night Live” alum who created and portrayed the androgynous character “Pat,” which spun off the feature film “It’s Pat.” She also created and performed several award-winning one-woman shows, including “God Said, Ha!”, “In the Family Way” and “Letting Go of God,” which was about her journey from Roman Catholic schoolgirl to atheist. She has also been in several movies, including “Pulp Fiction.” She has previously received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

Hotel reservations

Reserve rooms now! We’ve had to ask for more rooms after our first block filled quickly, but those are almost gone, too, with no guarantee there will be more. Rooms (at $230) are being held for Friday and Saturday nights, and a slightly more limited number for Thursday early-birds. Phone directly to make your reservations: 1-888-421-1442 and use the code “Freedom From Religion Foundation.” Or go online at ffrf.org/convention2018 for full convention information or reserve hotel rooms directly at bit.ly/FFRF2018.

Registration

FFRF registration is only $60 per member, $65 per companion, $110 for non-members, and students and children get in free. Take advantage of FFRF’s meal and registration package to save $20. Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch are on your own.

Menus

The menus for the two Saturday meals (with veggie, vegan and gluten-free options) are:

Breakfast — Chef’s bakery selection, scrambled eggs, Hobb’s bacon, breakfast potatoes, juice and coffee.

Dinner — Potage Parmentier (potato leek soup), crispy shallots, chive crème fraiche, Champagne brown butter chicken, tarragon mushroom fond, Cipollini onion and Comte risotto, steamed broccolini, French pear tart, frangipane, vanilla cream.

General schedule

Arrange your travel schedule for the convention’s expanded hours and to take in a little sightseeing as well. The official starting time is 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, continuing through Saturday night. FFRF’s membership and state representative meetings take place Sunday morning with a noon adjournment.

The convention will include irreverent music, complimentary appetizers on Friday afternoon and a complimentary Friday night dessert reception. On Saturday is the annual “Non-Prayer Breakfast,” which includes the “moment of bedlam.” On Saturday night there will be the popular drawing for “clean” (pre-“In God We Trust”) currency.

Sign up at: ffrf.org/convention2018.

Julia Sweeney
Leighann Lord

And the award goes to . . .

FFRF will be handing out 10 awards at this year’s convention in San Francisco the weekend of Nov. 2-4. Two of them are new this year, including the Clarence Darrow Award and the Avijit Roy Courage Award.

Emperor Has No Clothes Award is an honor celebrating “plain speaking” on the shortcomings of religion by public figures.

Forward Award is a statuette created for FFRF by sculptor Zenos Frudakis and is given to those freethinkers who have moved society forward.

Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award goes to an organization or individual who is judged to have done the most to diminish the influence of fundamentalist religion. Zumach, a Life Member of FFRF, has endowed the award. The awardee earns a $10,000 prize.

Avijit Roy Courage Award is in honor of the Bangladeshi-American atheist and author who was assassinated in 2015 by Islamists. The awardee earns a $5,000 prize.

Honorable Culbert Olson Courage Award is a special honor to be given to Debra Olson on behalf of her grandfather, the first out atheist governor of California.

Freethought Heroine Award recognizes the special contributions of women to freethought and the battle to keep state and church separate.

Beverly and Richard Herman Student Activist Award of $5,000 recognizes outstanding activism for freethought or the separation of church and state by students.

Clarence Darrow Award is a miniature replica of the 7-foot Darrow statue sculpted for FFRF by Frudakis that now stands outside the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn. The statuette is given to an activist in freethought, civil liberties or science.


John de Lancie, actor, director, producer and activist, is best-known for portraying “Q” in the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He has appeared in dozens of movies and television shows. John has performed with most of the major symphony orchestras in America, Canada and Australia. He was co-owner, with Leonard Nimoy, of Alien Voices; a production company devoted to the dramatization of classic sci-fi. John has also directed a number of operas.

He will be receiving the Clarence Darrow Award.


Bailey Harris, 12, is co-author with her father, Douglas. The first book of the Stardust series, My Name Is Stardust, was released in 2017 and has sold thousands of copies worldwide, enabling Bailey and Douglas to help spread their passion for science to families across the globe.

The second book in the series, Stardust Explores the Solar System, which will be published this fall, explains how our solar system came to be, starting with the Big Bang.

Bailey will be receiving FFRF’s Beverly and Richard Herman Student Activist Award.


Ensaf Haidar has been fighting to free her husband, Raif Badawi, who has been imprisoned and flogged for founding an internet forum that “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought.” In January 2015, Raif was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators, creating an international outcry. Ensaf and their three children escaped from Saudi Arabia and were granted asylum in Canada. She is the president and co-founder of the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom.

Ensaf will receive the Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award.


Sarah Haider is a writer, speaker and activist who spent her early youth as a practicing Muslim. She left her faith in her late teens, and later co-founded Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), which advocates for the acceptance of religious dissent and works to create local support communities for those who have left Islam. Sarah directs EXMNA’s Life Beyond Faith mini-documentaries and also heads EXMNA’s Normalizing Dissent tour. She is a columnist for Free Inquiry.

Sarah will be receiving the Freethought Heroine Award.


U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., is one of the founders of the new Congressional Freethought Caucus, which will center on fostering “science- and reason-based solutions” and “defending the secular character of our government.”

“There currently is no forum focused on these important issues, and with this Administration and certain members of Congress constantly working to erode the separation of church and state, this new caucus is both important and timely,” Huffman said in a statement.

Huffman will receive the Emperor Has No Clothes Award.


Debra Olson, along with Dr. Craig West Wilkinson, is author of a new book about her atheist grandfather, The Honorable Culbert Levy Olson: Governor of California 1939-1943. She is a political, environmental and peace activist and held volunteer positions on both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns. She was an advisor and fundraising consultant for the Kucinich for President campaign in 2003. She is the Founder of Peace Solutions.

Olson will be accepting the special Honorable Culbert Olson Courage Award.


Cecile Richards is a national leader for women’s rights and social and economic justice, and the author of New York Times bestseller Make Trouble. She is the former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. In 2011 and 2012, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Richards will be receiving the Forward Award. After her convention discussion, she will hold a Q&A and a book signing.


Roopbaan, founded in 2014, is the first gay magazine published in Bangladesh. One of its founders was murdered by Islamists. Accepting FFRF’s premiere Avijit Roy Courage Award in the magazine’s honor will be a Roopbann co-founder whose life also was threatened, and who is now in the United States applying for asylum.

On hand to announce the new award will be Rafida Bonya Ahmed, widow of Avijit Roy, who was critically wounded in the attack and has c

ontinued to help other threatened secular activists.


Salman Rushdie has written several classic novels, influenced a generation of writers and received the Queen’s Knighthood for his “services to literature.”

His novels include The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and 2008’s The Enchantress of Florence. His masterwork of magic realism, Midnight’s Children, won the presitigious Booker Prize, and later, the Best of the Booker.

Rushdie will be receiving the Emperor Has No Clothes Award. There will be a book signing after his speech.


Adam Savage began his career in the special effects industry, working on such movies as “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” and “Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” “Galaxy Quest” and the “Matrix” sequels. In 2002, Adam was chosen along with Jamie Hyneman to host MythBusters, which premiered on Discovery Channel in January 2003. Fourteen years, 1,015 myths, 2,950 experiments, eight Emmy nominations and 83 miles of duct tape later, the series ended in March 2016.

He will be receiving the Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

In Memoriam: Dr. George Meyer was accomplished radiologist

FFRF Lifetime Member Dr. George John Meyer, 91, died July 4, in hospice care at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, Fla.

George was born in Bristol, Conn., on May 25, 1927. He was salutatorian of his graduating class at Bristol High School, where he was an outstanding scholar, athlete and student leader. Near the end of World War II, George volunteered to serve in the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps. In 1948 George graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Tufts College. After he received his M.D. degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1952, he fulfilled a one-year internship at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C., followed by five years of family medical practice in and near High Point, N.C. He then spent three years of further training as a resident physician in radiology at the University of Miami, Jackson Memorial Hospital. In 1961, he joined the staff of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale where he worked for 30 years and was chairman of the radiology department for several years. Along with Dr. Robert Conti, he founded and presided over Meyer and Conti, which later became Radiologists of North Fort Lauderdale, a 13-man group providing expert care to the patients of Holy Cross Hospital.

Dr. Meyer was a diplomat of the American Board of Radiology and a life member of the American College of Radiology. In 1969, he initiated, organized and chaired the Stop Smoking! clinics in Broward County.

In the 1980s, he worked with Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) to help spread awareness of the world-wide catastrophic dangers of nuclear weapons. In 1985 International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) received the Nobel Peace Prize, and PSR was the USA affiliate of IPPNW. That achievement was probably his most cherished professional accomplishment.

Although raised in a fundamentalist Lutheran household, his extensive scientific studies and readings directed him, in later life, to abandon the tenets and myths of organized religions and to adopt rational secular humanistic principles. He was a life member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Humanist Association.

Dr. George Meyer

It Pays to Complain: Questions get the ball rolling

By Jim Diedrich

For the past 10 years I’ve lived in a small town of about 5,000 people on Cape Ann in Massachusetts called Manchester-by-the-Sea. The town was established in 1644 and originally named Jeffery’s Creek. 

About a year ago, I wrote to FFRF requesting advice on how to approach government regarding sectarian invocations. Following your suggestion, I approached Massachusetts’ secretary of state, asking why invocations are always secular. I was referred to our town clerk, who advised me that she thought invocations were the purview of our town moderator.

I then asked our town moderator why, for over 370 years, our annual town meeting has always begun with an invocation given by a clergy person. The moderator’s initial reply was to challenge why I asked. When I replied that I was an atheist, or, if he preferred, a secular humanist, that seemed to put him off a bit. But, to his credit, he said he’d get back with me to discuss the issue.

That conversation took place in early summer of 2017, and I finally did hear back in December of that year when he asked me to join him for a coffee. After speaking for more than an hour, our moderator said he really had no idea what people who are atheists or secular humanists actually believe, or don’t believe. He told me after speaking with me that he thought I was a reasonable person and he would think about allowing a nonsectarian invocation at some point.

Then, in early winter, he approached me to review a letter he was proposing to publish in our town newspaper, advising that the upcoming town meeting would include a nonsectarian invocation. He also asked if I would be interested in giving it. For his letter to the town, I suggested he describe me as a secular humanist, since I thought it might be less offensive term to some rather than the word “atheist.”

I did give my invocation as planned and the response was mostly favorable — and certainly not hostile. To prepare, I read a ton of nonsectarian invocations from a wide variety of sources and used some of the material along with my own thoughts. I can’t say my version was totally original, but I didn’t actively steal from others (other than the words about Carl Sagan).