Honorable mention: People of color essay contest — Nicole Kye

Freeing my voice from the iron grip of religion

By Nicole Kye

“Repent your sins.”

“God is watching.”

“That means that you don’t actually believe in Jesus.”

These were the phrases by the Catholic Church that I heard throughout elementary school. I was suffocated by priests, adults, and even peers who criticized my every move.

I was curious and ambitious, but anxiety related to the Church held me in its iron grip. Even though I envisioned myself as a girl who could speak assuredly to crowds, fearlessly lead others, and make a difference in the world, I was trapped by the refrain of “what ifs” constantly echoing in my mind. I feared having my own thoughts, being rejected from the Church, and even missing a single day of mass.

Once entering public middle school, I was introduced to the Franklin Cares Club. The club of six members helped with basic tasks such as bake sales and popcorn stands to raise money for school events.

That’s when the vice principal in charge of the organization marched into my life. Mr. Wu was an energetic man who always sported a tie, rolled-up sleeves, and carried a creative and insightful demeanor. He would excitedly buzz around us students as we completed our tasks, always checking in and challenging us.

Mr. Wu’s favorite question to ask me was “Why not?” If I was skeptical about joining a club, he’d ask “Why not?” If I hesitated to join a debate, he encouraged, “Why not?” If I expressed the most minute hesitation about expressing my true beliefs, he emboldened me by saying, “Why not?” Throughout middle school, he consistently challenged me with this question.

At the beginning of seventh grade, the school held a student council election. To participate in the election, students had to write a speech and deliver it in front of the entire school. I was curious about running, but right on cue, the forbidding chorus of “what ifs” assailed my mind: “What if no one votes for me?” “What if I miss mass for student council meetings?”

“What if my ideas are not accepted?”

But now there was another voice in my head. The voice of Mr. Wu and his trademark expression — “Why not?” “Why not try?” “Why not pursue this goal?” His mighty “why nots” began to drown out my nervous “what ifs.”

I ended up running for student council and being elected secretary. And I didn’t stop there. Mr. Wu’s words had imbued me with a new determination. I embraced the challenge and developed a driving confidence to engage in various clubs and connect with new people.

Now, when I’m faced with a decision, the voice that asks me “Why not?” is my own. This mantra has given me the courage to leave the Church, become the president of multiple clubs, and help organize a countywide festival. I have used these simple words to be

Nicole Kye

at back that iron hold religion held me in and to become the fearless fighting female my younger self envisioned. While my former church community has forgotten me, I have found new freedom in fighting for human rights, racial equality, and in supporting the LGBTQ+ communities. As a first-generation, non-religious woman and scholar of color, I can only hope that the secular communities on campuses across America warmly accept the new diverse group of incoming first-year students this semester. Finally, I can confidently say that rather than getting engulfed with angst, I now boldly charge into a world of unknowns, with a chorus of “Why nots?” spurring me onward.

Nicole, 19, is a first-year student at Cornell University and hopes to become a cardiac surgeon. Nicole volunteered at the public library and local hospital during high school and also was president of the Civics Youth Corps.

 

 

 

Honorable mention: People of color essay contest — Tamanna Sheikh

Tamanna Sheikh

It’s not about religion, it’s about the people

By Tamanna Sheikh

Religion has always been a topic to make me grimace a little. On one hand, I’m trying to accept it for the sake of my parents and culture. Od on the other hand, I’m finding inconsistencies and having doubts. In 2000, my parents immigrated from Bangladesh to America, where I was born shortly after. As such, I have also been raised with Bengali culture in mind. This meant Hindi movies, having big parties where I dress up in my nice salwar-kameez, and in conjunction with over 90 percent of Bengalis, practicing Islam.

Despite dreaming of coming to America for many years, my parents were firmly against adopting many aspects of American culture (which is fine of course, holding onto culture is deeply important for many). However, this set the tone for much of my cultural and religious turmoil. Growing up as a Muslim in America lends to a lot of conflict from many opposing sides. Americans don’t always understand Islam and the media has a tendency of bastardizing it while promoting the ideology of terrorism alongside it. My family and culture, however, glorifies the value of Islam and expects me to continue upholding the faith my entire life. Simply said, the general consensus around my American environment told me that Islam is bad, while my parents believed it was the best. The conflicting lines of thought were pretty jarring, especially for child-me who desired to find my own path. I wanted to embrace American culture, but I also wanted to please my parents and believe Islamic dogma despite slowly feeling disconnected from it.

At 11 years old, I can remember the bulk of my doubt against Islam, and religion as a

whole, beginning to form. Being just a child, it was difficult to put my feelings into words, but I could tell something wasn’t right. I began to wonder how people could use religion as a justification for their heinous actions, especially for those who were, in reality, simply out to hurt others. On top of that, I began to wonder if people really believed in their religion or were simply acting as they did to avoid societal backlash. After all, religion is largely enforced through family/community and most people don’t feel they can say anything contrary. This gave my unease with religion a form and slowly led me to be entirely nonreligious.

I think for people of color especially, religion is so intertwined with culture that it can be difficult to maintain an ethnic identity while not practicing the common religion. They’re still held under specific expectations and stigmas due to their religion, and it can be frustrating to have to tell insisting relatives, “No, I don’t think praying to Allah will bring a solution.” ​​I believe we, as people, especially people of color, need to be better understood as the people we are rather than use religion as a fill-in-the-blank answer.

Ultimately, I reject religion because I want to realistically understand the ugliness and beauty of humans on my own terms, without the backdrop of religion. I want people to be able to see me for who I am rather than what I may represent. I want to understand the significance of love, morality, justice, humanity, crime, hatred and so many other human acts in their full authenticity, but more importantly with the focus being on the person, not who they worship.

Tamanna, 20, attends Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in psychology. “I have a passion for volunteering and I regularly go to United2Heal meetings, where I help sort and organize medical supplies,” Tamanna writes.

Honorable mention: People of color essay contest — Bruno Rios De La Fuente

A life without questions is not a live well-lived

By Bruno Rios De La Fuente

With every question, the reply was always the same. “Read your bible.” It was never lost on me that the people saying it wouldn’t actually ever read it. So, I decided to actually try it. What I found was atrocious. Long story short: The bible didn’t provide me with any actual answers, or even coherent arguments. Those around me would only meet my critiques with hostility and dismissal, so answers would not be garnered from them. So, I did what I would spend much of my life doing, searching for them. That search has provided me with many skills which have proven their utility throughout my life. That search has provided me with three major benefits: moral clarity, self-satisfaction and a skill for developing well thought-out arguments.

In my time within the religious community, I discovered a disease of hypocrisy. It was as widespread as the common cold. People would always claim they believe in this or that, but when it truly matters, when they have something to lose, they tend to lean more so toward their own benefit. I found that repulsive. So, I assembled a core set of ideas, based on humanity and empathy. I am happy to say that I have stuck with those ideas and I can feel confident that I am not in the wrong. I put myself in the shoes of the powerless, and from there see how my actions can be interpreted. Although this does lead me to over-think things, and often remain hesitant to act, I know that what I have done and try to do always comes from a place of caring and understanding.

Confidence and high self-value are not things which come naturally to me and it took quite a bit of time for it to truly develop. For me, my morals and ideas are what I hold dearest because they provide me with something nothing else can: happiness. I may stress out and overcomplicate issues, but in the end, what I am left with is always the same: Knowledge that I did my best to thoroughly think a decision out, and that with the same information I would always come to the same conclusion. This has left me with a series of decisions I stand by because I made them. They weren’t rash, emotional or half-baked; they were reasonable and well thought-out. And with them behind me, I am always left with happiness.

As a person of color in the United States, I have had to deal with a lot of setbacks. Once you separate yourself from religion, you also lose a lot of the community that you would normally have to help mediate those setbacks. So, I was on my own, and when it came time for me to try to go to college, it was quite the uphill battle. But what allowed me to not just go to college, but to attend one of the few in my hometown I would be able to afford, was my ability

Bruno Rios De La Fuente

to make good cohesive arguments. I was able to convince enough groups to help me get there. And that is what the secular community needs to work on — its outreach toward people who lose their sense of community when they separate themselves from religion. But, now that the full ramifications of my departure from the religious community have revealed themselves, I can firmly say, that the only thing the bible gave me was a thorough lesson in what not to do, and, in that regard, it went above and beyond.

Bruno, 21, attends California State University Channel Islands. “My life has always somehow managed to buck its trajectory. Some call its perseverance, others tenacity, I think of it more as stubbornness. I have overcome a lot, but I prefer not to dwell on that. I’m focused on becoming a professor one day, to share my love of history and write in a way that can connect with people.”

FFRF’s chapters stay engaged, build support

Judy Saint (right), president of Greater Sacramento Chapter of FFRF, stands with chapter board member Janet Thew (middle) and the director of the Mustard Seed School for homeless children. The chapter has given hundreds of $5 gas cards to parents who often sleep in their cars and must drive their kids to school.
FFRF Portland’s president Cheryl Kolbe (second from left) holds a package of sheets to be donated to Portland Homeless Family Solutions.

By Kristina Daleiden

FFRF’s network of 21 (soon to be 22 with the recent addition of the Metro Cincinnati Chapter) officially recognized grassroots chapters have continued to build support and increase the visibility of local freethinkers. Despite the challenges we have all faced due to the pandemic, these dedicated activists have embraced new strategies to keep their communities engaged, and helped those who find themselves in even greater need through the $1,000 annual charitable grant provided by FFRF.

Below are recent highlights from many of FFRF’s chapters.

Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC)

Continuing its remarkable history of building community, CFFC increased its outreach to include thousands of followers and local members. CFFC members volunteered nearly 200 hours cleaning up parks in central Florida, tabled at local events including Central Florida Earth Day, Central Florida Veg Fest, Valencia College’s Peace and Justice Institute, the Women’s March, FREEFLO (the biennial Freethought Florida Conference) and marched in the Come Out With Pride Orlando and the Orlando Veteran’s Day Parade.

CFFC hosted countless events of its own and in partnership with other organizations, including the Central Florida Summit on Religious Freedom. The Seventh Annual Freethought Cruise featured renowned atheist Matt Dillahunty. CFFC also shook up the Florida Film Festival with the premiere of the movie “Hail Satan?”, featuring Satanic Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves.

CFFC’s campaign for secular, inclusive invocation practices before governmental meetings continued apace, with more than a dozen secular invocations given around the region, topped off by a lauded victory in its 11th Circuit Court lawsuit against the Brevard County Commission. CFFC, along with FFRF and other organizations, joined to ensure the commission’s discriminatory selection practices for invocators at commission meetings would come to an end.

CFFC and FFRF contributed $2,000 to purchase PPE supplies for local teachers at the start of the 2020 school year, while in 2019 they collected nearly 100 STEM toys in conjunction with BE Orlando Humanist Fellowship for the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

Central Indiana Chapter of FFRF (CICFFRF)

The Central Indiana Chapter of FFRF (CICFFRF), which was just established in September 2019, worked to build its membership and engage with the community through meetings and informal gatherings. CICFFRF elected its governing board, attained official 501(c)(3) status and capped off 2019 with a celebratory winter holiday party.

Unfortunately, plans to increase local visibility by tabling at annual events such as the 2020 Indianapolis Pride Parade were stalled by the pandemic, but CICFFRF remains undaunted in its commitment to standing up for freethinkers.

Colorado Springs Chapter–FFRF

FFRF’s oldest chapter continued its long tradition of showing its notoriously Christian community how to be good without God. Beyond sponsoring the local PrideFest, members in Colorado Springs expressed their appreciation for teachers with gifts of Penzey’s Spices and supported their students with donations to food pantries serving schools.

The Colorado Springs chapter keeps busy at gatherings by creating “comfort scarves” for students in need of extra warmth or a cozy reminder that they have caring, rational allies who support them. According to long-time chapter leader Gary King, these gifts were inspired to be like constant hugs for children facing insecurity and difficult times.

With the closing of local schools, and the resulting lack of contact with students in families already stressed before the pandemic, members are exploring more ways to share their comfort scarves, and FFRF is ready to support their efforts with its annual charitable grant program.

FFRF–East Tennessee Chapter (FFRF–ETC)

FFRF-ETC is active on social media and has a robust Facebook presence that acts as a lightning rod for people to report violations of the Establishment Clause. The outstanding leadership and members of FFRF-ETC are responsible for alerting FFRF’s legal team to countless instances of religious encroachment into our secular public sphere.

In collaboration with the Rationalists of East Tennessee, these activists continue their effort to challenge the distribution of Gideon bibles in Blount County schools. In 2018, the group successfully eliminated bible distribution at the elementary school level. Although Blount County has been dragging its feet and creating roadblocks, FFRF-ETC and the Rationalists of East Tennessee intend to keep fighting until the Gideons are no longer given access to proselytize to students in junior and senior high.

Thanks to FFRF’s annual chapter charitable grant, FFRF-ETC members were able to distribute 48 well-stocked backpacks to the homeless population in Knox County, where individuals experiencing homelessness are required to have a backpack or luggage for their personal effects before they can be admitted into a shelter.

FFRF-ETC worked with our national office to post a “Proud Atheist” billboard in Maryville, garnering attention from the local TV news. Tennesseeans were further reminded through ads on the local NPR station that not  everyone shares the Christian beliefs. These PR initiatives were made possible through a grant from FFRF.

FFRF Metro Chicago Chapter (FFRFMCC)

The members of the FFRF Metro Chicago Chapter kept a rigorous schedule of activities, presentations, legislative efforts and highly visible secular displays around Chicagoland in 2019 and early 2020. FFRFMCC also streamlined its membership process to ensure that chapter membership aligned with FFRF membership requirements, beefing up the membership numbers of both organizations.

In keeping with ongoing efforts across the secular movement to build diversity, ensure equity and create inclusive, nonreligious spaces for people from marginalized communities, FFRFMCC and FFRF were delighted to co-sponsor the First Annual Women of Color Beyond Belief National Conference in Chicago, which came on the heels of hosting Black Nonbelievers President Mandisa Thomas, who delivered her presentation, “Fear of a Black Atheist: How Religion Crippled the Black Community.”

Critically, FFRFMCC reported to FFRF that the state of Illinois was considering giving grants to various religious organizations, using funds from its “Rebuild Illinois” program. This action prompted an investigation, which resulted in a letter to the department requesting the grants not be approved by the state, citing the Illinois  Constitution, which prohibits taxpayer funds from being used to support religious organizations. FFRFMCC members and leadership are also working to encourage legislation regarding compassionate “end-of-life” options in Illinois.

It wasn’t all business, of course. Everyone’s favorite satirical secular songwriter Roy Zimmerman performed for local freethinkers, sponsored in cooperation with the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. FFRFMCC also continued its long-running tradition of placing secular “equal time” displays to counter religious holiday imagery around the Chicago area, including a large light-up Dawkins “A” and two banners at the Daley Center Plaza, and three of FFRF’s Bill of Rights nativity displays in public locations.

FFRF Metro Denver Chapter

FFRF Metro Denver Chapter continues to make the most of the vibrant secular community in its region. It was delighted to partner with a number of other groups to host the Colorado Secular Conference, which drew nearly 200 attendees from throughout Colorado and featured FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor as a headliner.

The Metro Denver Chapter hosts regular Coffee & Community Pancake Breakfasts each year, as well as celebrations for the Summer and Winter Solstice. Utilizing its connections in the community, the Denver chapter hosts speakers, recently welcoming Secular Student Alliance Executive Director Kevin Bolling, and FFRF’s own Andrew L. Seidel. 2019 was its sixth year attending Denver’s PrideFest, and was able to raise over $800 in donations in exchange for secular bumper stickers.

FFRF Kentucky

FFRF Kentucky kept up the pressure in the Bible Belt, continuing its dedication to serving as a critical state/church watchdog. FFRF Kentucky members executed multiple open records requests to reveal the troubling entanglement between creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and the Ark Encounter with the city of Williamstown.

Working closely with the FFRF legal department, FFRF Kentucky raised the alarm over multiple violations of the Establishment Clause, including field trips to Ark Encounter and Creation Museum by high schools and colleges, sale of Christian CDs and books by the author and teacher’s aide in public schools, prayers at school events, violations by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, numerous violations by the previous  Gov. Matt Bevin, and a shocking episode of a Daviess County public school teacher playing religious videos during biology class, which earned the student involved an FFRF Student Activist Award.

FFRF Kentucky has worked tirelessly to foster relationships with other secular organizations, tabling at the 2019 American Atheist Conference and partnering with the Secular Student Alliance to support SSA chapters at numerous universities in the region. The outreach efforts of FFRF Kentucky are remarkable, hosting booths at the Kentucky State Fair, NanoCon, KY Freethought Convention, and publishing the informative and entertaining “Blasphemy in the Bluegrass” podcasts, on top of coordinating regular chapter meetings, group excursions, and speaker events. FFRF Kentucky also partners with a low-income senior living facility to provide essentials to many people without the resources to purchase new items for themselves.

Grand Rapids Area Freethinkers (GRAF)

In Minnesota, the Grand Rapids Area Freethinkers continued its regular meeting and social gathering schedule throughout 2019, shifting its focus from educational programs to highlight community organizations providing services to disadvantaged groups in order to determine what GRAF can do to support them.

GRAF members serve their community in a number of ways, from the “Adopt-a-Highway” program to a holiday food program at the Second Harvest Food Bank and toy packing program. With the support of the chapter charitable grant program, GRAF has continued to make an annual donation to the local Boys and Girls Club, who operate two programs in school buildings located in Grand Rapids and Coleraine. GRAF’s donation has served to fund memberships for children whose families are unable to pay the annual fee. Due to the increased need related to COVID-19, GRAF’s contribution to the Boys and Girls Club will also help supply the community food shelf in 2020.

In response to a weekly column in the local newspaper featuring area ministers called “Faith,” GRAF asked to participate in this use of the paper’s space and was invited to submit a column once per month in rotation with the church columns. GRAF’s column is called “The Humanist Voice,” which explains and defends the secular humanist perspective and the columns are published on the third Wednesday of the month.

Greater Sacramento Chapter of FFRF

In 2019, the notoriously non-sacramental Sacramento chapter continued to take on projects large and small with the zeal it’s become known for. Sacramento chapter members took advantage of their location in the California capital city to “Come Out to a Candidate” by handing out cards with secular population statistics to lawmakers and candidates. Chapter President Judy Saint hosted a lively event with Dan Barker, and the chapter board voted to help the local Gay and Lesbian Center. This support provided 20 HIV tests along with counseling, and five events of “cultural competency and diversity training for any agency, workplace or school seeking to create an affirming and compliant environment.”

Inland Northwest Freethought Society (INFS)

The Inland Northwest Freethought Society fills a surprising niche in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, where self-determination and freethinking aren’t necessarily associated with non-belief. However, this group has created a vibrant and active secular community. FFRF Co-President Dan Barker’s visit in March 2019 to the “Heathen Mexican Fiesta Potluck” was a fantastic success, with 108 people in attendance! While the pandemic has greatly impacted INFS’s traditional gatherings, it looks forward to returning to safe and fun social activities.

INFS also supports the work of its member, author and lecturer Jim Downard. His book, Evolution Slam Dunk: Why the Reptile-Mammal Transition Proves Macroevolution & How Antievolutionists Ignore It, is a great takedown of creationism. He is also a co-author of The Rocks Were There, an in-depth, well-researched book dealing with creationist claims. In keeping with its tradition of valuing and supporting members, INFS recognized three members with an Inland Northwest Freethought Achievement Award in 2019 for longtime contributions to the community and to the INFS organization.

Kenosha-Racine Area Freethinkers–Southeast Wisconsin (KRAFt)

In 2019, KRAFt held biweekly meetings over dinner and drinks at the Charcoal Grille for fun and engaging trivia nights.

The Adopt-a-Highway program continued with three occurrences over the course of the season from April 1 through Oct. 31, providing great exposure in front of a very popular tourist attraction.

In July 2019, KRAFt took a field trip to Freethought Hall, where Dan Barker and Andrew L. Seidel helped with content for a new YouTube channel and podcast. KRAFt members who had not yet seen the silicone Charles Darwin statue in FFRF’s library were charmed with his patience while they took pictures.

An alert KRAFt member in Racine exposed the county’s funding of a Christian youth group and we were able to stop the violation with help from FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne, whose swift letter explaining the constitutional violation was able to nip the program in the bud.

Lake Superior Freethinkers (LSF)

The LSF has distanced itself from any events that could be perceived as partisan political activities in order to avoid any inappropriate entanglements for a nonprofit organization. To that end, the LSF has established a subgroup, the People of Conscience Committee (POCC), which provides interested members with opportunities to engage in community activities (such as demonstrations of support for addressing climate change), without the endorsement of the LSF as a whole.

The LSF also engages in activities in support of local organizations and movements in order to enhance the visibility of secularism in general and the LSF in particular. Such activities include participation in Gay Pride events and fundraisers for the local women’s health center, the WE Health Clinic. With the support of FFRF’s charitable grant program and additional contributions from LSF members, LSF presented a direct grant to the WE Health Clinic in early 2020.

FFRF Portland Area

Sadly, in 2020 we are saying goodbye to this chapter, which had eight years of laudable advocacy! As a final hoorah, the chapter ran Independence Day ads in three local newspapers to counter the traditional Hobby Lobby misinformation ads.

Among the most notable achievements of any group was FFRF Portland’s successful effort to add “nonbelief” as a protected class in the city of Portland, which was approved in February 2019. Portland is now only the second municipality in the nation that recognizes nonbelief as a protected class. (Madison, Wis., FFRF’s home base, is the other.)

FFRF Portland participated in street fairs, hosted regular meetings, and speaker events over the years, and members provided hours of volunteer time at the Oregon Food Bank. Recently, FFRF Portland has directed support to Portland Homeless Family Solutions to purchase sundries for families experiencing homelessness to take with them to their new homes, and materials to create a calm and healthy environment while at the shelter.

FFRF will miss the tireless advocacy of FFRF Portland’s longtime leader Cheryl Kolbe, but we wish her the very best in the future and are deeply grateful for her work and on-going leadership as a current member of FFRF’s Executive Board of Directors.

Unfettered Freethinkers of South Sound

In December 2019, the stalwart members of the Unfettered Freethinkers of South Sound, led by Darrell Barker, persevered in their efforts to provide a counterpoint to a nativity display on the grounds of the Washington state Capitol, causing such consternation that the display was vandalized, as it was in 2017. Fortunately, the display was quickly “resurrected” with the support of FFRF members and UFSS volunteers. Local chapter members were rewarded with donuts and coffee from the grateful team in Madison.

Valley of the Sun (FFRF–VS)

The FFRF-Valley of the Sun was originally formed in 2011 by a Phoenix group, led by a determined activist who served as the nucleus for an informal secular group. With the death of that activist, a number of group members took up the banner and formalized the FFRF-VS chapter in late 2019. Even while they busied themselves with details of formally establishing their group, FFRF-VS members worked to build its core membership and engage with the community through meetings and informal gatherings. FFRF-VS elected its governing board and attained official 501(c)(3) status.

In the short time before COVID-19 prevented in-person activities from happening, FFRF-VS chapter hosted numerous events, including talks with FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel and FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, and tabled at the 2020 Women’s March before the pandemic sent all of their activities online. FFRF-VS has taken its virtual meetings and presentations to a much broader audience and has added virtual social meetings, which have become popular.

Kristina Daleiden is FFRF’s programs manager.

Brian Fitzpatrick: Recovered Catholic now happy atheist

By Brian Fitzpatrick

I

Brian Fitzpatrick

n 1945, the birth lottery dropped me in Brooklyn, N.Y., and there, frocked freaks pounced and shoved Catholicism down my throat. Thirty-five years later, I wretched it up. But, oh, the wasted energy escaping from that malicious myth: branded with original sin and predestined for eternal flames. I had lost life’s game before I suited up.

For many painful years, I stumbled through the minefield of ubiquitous sins. I struggled to distinguish mortal from venial. I suffered from the guilt of being a boy and being attracted to girls. I finally realized that if nature hadn’t designed me that way, humanity would perish.

After eight years of nuns at Our Lady of Incredible Guilt and eight years of Jesuits, I was perfectly prepared for the Spanish Inquisition. Unfortunately, it was the ’60s and protesters were burning bras and draft cards. I never could reconcile Cardinal Francis Spellman’s endorsement of napalming Vietnamese children with “Thou shalt not kill.”

The blatant hypocrisy of “God and country” slapped me in the face. My cloistered walls were cracking. Thank Grog I met some jovial Jews who liberated me. The Jewish atheists had traded Yahweh for Marilyn Monroe. It looked like a good deal to me. I told God to go to hell — I’m going to heaven . . . with Marilyn.

Walking life’s trail for 75 years, I’ve had time to think. If divinity exists, it blooms within the communion of human hearts. The confluence of individuals fostering beneficence is our raison d’ etre. It points to our evolutionary path.  We were born to protect creation and leave Mother Earth healthier than we found her.

Our noblesse oblige is to nurture the common good. Herein lies the rub. Organized religion is a parasite. It refuses to pay taxes to support the common good. We citizens pay taxes on property, income and consumption. But not churches; they get a free ride. One wonders why? Perhaps churches perform a function for the state. What could that function be?

Historically, shamans and holy men played the masses for chumps. The shamans invented gods to enhance their powers. Nothing has changed. Christianity invented a guy in the sky who metes out eternal flames if you disobey “his” rules. That’s the yardstick. If people believe the god myth, they will swallow the lies of puppeticians (politicians on oligarch strings).

Religion is a gullibility test. If people are naive enough to swallow the swill emanating from churches, they will also swallow government lies (e.g., the weapons of mass destruction ruse that killed a million Iraqis and had untold other consequences).

Witness the current milieu: Evangelicals rabidly support a blatant sybarite, swindler and schmuck.

Thank Grog I’m a happy atheist.

FFRF Member Brian Fitzpatrick is a retired public high school teacher in Jefferson County, Colo.

Freethought books

The following books are by FFRF members on the topics of religion or freethinking. FFRF does not do book reviews.

Freethinking Cryptograms

By Brooks Rimes

$8.95 (paperback)

Solving cryptograms is fun and these quotes will inspire! Respected and admired men and women have their quotes hidden here, including Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Joel, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright – a total of 191 different people. So sharpen your pencil, put on your thinking cap and start solving the 250+ puzzles!


Upon Further Review: The Search for Truth and Reality in the Abrahamic Faiths

By Emory Lynn

Paperback $23

Woods Lane Press LLC, 2020

Does the god of the Abrahamic faiths exist? What are the historical truths about Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad? How did our universe come to exist? How did human beings and other biological species come to exist? What is the source of purpose and meaning in our lives? This book is a journey of discovery based on 21 years of rigorous, comprehensive research into the truths proclaimed by the Abrahamic religions, with an emphasis on the world’s most popular religion — Christianity.


Freethinking Cryptograms
Upon Further Review
Time is Irreverent 3

Time Is Irreverent 3: Gone for 16 Seconds

By Marty Essen

$14.95 (paperback)

$4.99 (Kindle)

Encante Press, LLC, 2020

Marty Mann and Nellie Dixon are back for another irreverent, liberal, twisty, time-travel comedy. This time they have Noah’s Ark and Ronald Reagan in their sights. Time Is Irreverent 3: Gone for 16 Seconds is a thought-provoking satire that answers the questions, “If Noah boasted about the size of his ark, what else did he boast about?” and “What if you could kidnap Ronald Reagan and show him the Ghosts of Earth Yet to Come?” And yes, Jesus plays a mean electric guitar!

Winners of Cliff Richards Student Scholarships

FFRF is proud to announce it has awarded three $1,000 scholarships to students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The scholarships are part of FFRF’s Cliff Richards Student Activist Awards program and in partnership with the Secular Student Alliance.

Below are bios of the three awardees. (Two of the three did not want their last names used.)

Kourtney

Attending Spelman College was a lifelong dream for Kourtney, a health sciences major. Her desire to learn more about herself through education led her to pursue a career as a medical examiner. In high school, she naturally gravitated to and excelled in STEM-related courses.

Kourtney and her mother, who is a Christian, have had many talks about her spiritual journey outside of Christianity and religion. Kourtney has explored her own morals with a larger worldview and respects those with different beliefs.

During her sophomore year, Kourtney chose to further her education in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, which lacks representation of Black students. She also joined the Student Organization for Anti-Racism to advocate increased representation of African-American students in international classes. During this election year, Kourtney has been focused on increasing the turnout of young voters. Kourtney feels that the Secular Student Alliance provides a safe space for nonreligious and religious students to connect with each other and discuss differing viewpoints with civility and respect.

Timothy

Majoring in aerospace engineering, Timothy is a first-year student at Tuskegee University. Raised in an Independent Fundamental Baptist home, he went to a private Christian school from first to eighth grade, but then attended public school due to issues with bullying.

As the first in his family to go to college, Timothy is a role model for his younger brothers. Timothy’s secular identity is relatively new, as his interest in science began to challenge his religious beliefs. At age 17, he left the church, which disappointed his parents, who then disabled his phone, tried to take his car, and threatened to kick him out of the house.

Timothy is involved with the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraged voting on campus. He also works with local organizations to combat institutionalized racism. As someone who had his thoughts and ideals hijacked from an early age, Timothy says: “It is very important to me that I do my best to encourage freethought among my peers. For when we have the ability to truly express our thoughts, then we may know who we really are and what we want.”

Marie Chantal

Marie Chantal is a junior at Howard University, majoring in chemical engineering with a concentration in biotechnology and biomedicine. She plans to attend medical school to become a doctor specializing in contagious diseases. She hopes to provide aid in the refugee crises and build Africa’s medical infrastructure. 

Marie was born in a Rwandese refugee camp, so she and her family know the impact of war. “I do not have a name for my secular identity. I just know that I have seen Catholicism imported by colonizers stop my people from seeking justice for themselves because they believed in a savior falling from the sky. I have seen religion hurt my people.” While respecting her Rwandese and Black family, Marie says she cannot follow religious practices that have been used for centuries and that continue to oppress her people.

Marie is a member of the Youth United Nations Association, Black Action Movement and Planned Parenthood. She organized fundraisers and panel discussions for Freedom House Detroit, which helps asylum seekers. She presented at conferences on cultural competency and preventative methods against sexual harassment in higher education. She also produced a documentary promoting Black mental health, in an attempt to disrupt the stigma surrounding mental health in the black community.

Kourtney
Timothy
Marie Chantal

Winners of Yip Harburg Youth Activist Award

FFRF is proud to announce the three students with art-related majors who are winners of this year’s Yip Harburg Youth Activist Award. They will receive $1,000.

The generously endowed scholarship is from the Yip Harburg Foundation and FFRF Members Ernie and Margie Harburg, the children of the famous lyricist of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Here are the bios of the three winners, who did not want their last names used.

Daniel

The first in his family to go to college, Daniel is majoring in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and enjoys using his photos to tell stories and evoke feelings about race, sexuality and femininity.

Daniel grew up with a religious Dominican mother, who credited God for everything they had. Daniel felt his mother was “discrediting all the hard work she’s done for our family and all the sacrifices she’s made.” When Daniel realized he was gay, he re-examined his religious beliefs, concluding there was no god and people were using God as a coping mechanism for the things going on in the world.

Daniel organized a photography fundraiser with other local photographers for the Black Lives Matter movement. While Daniel’s photography centers around empowering women and showing the diversity of what it means to be a woman, he hopes to discuss humanistic and racial themes through his photography and art.

An atheist, gay, pro-Black-Lives-Matter feminist, Daniel feels we should be able to accept each other’s differences and exist amicably. Everyone should be free to express their beliefs without fear of backlash and without invalidating other people’s beliefs.

Catherine

Catherine is a theatre and music lighting designer major at Rutgers University. At the age of 15, she was interested in the technical side of theatre and hopes to work on Broadway and eventually become a teacher. Catherine believes theatre and other storytelling art helps mold young minds into being more compassionate people.

Catherine’s grandfather was a deacon and multiple great aunts and uncles are nuns and monks. Despite this, her religious parents raised her in a home devoid of religion, so, when she was old enough, she chose on her own. “I am an atheist and proud of it,” she says.

Catherine is a very outspoken activist, believing the church should not hold control in the government. Catherine feels the impact of Christianity is negatively impacting women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality. She has participated in multiple woman’s rights marches, Gay Pride week, March for Science and Black Lives Matter protests. In high school, she was captain of the debate team, writing mock bills focused on race and gender.

Braxton

As a Navajo native from Idaho, Braxton grew up in an LDS-Mormon family. Braxton felt the church and most members shunned his family because of their non-traditional background, family member’s addictions, and their overall lifestyle. Eight years ago, Braxton officially left the church because he disagreed with the church’s vocal stance against same-sex marriage, among other things. “I now identify as an atheist and strive to show people good comes from good people, not God,” Braxton says.

Braxton saved enough money to attend Utah Valley University as an audio digital media major, but during his second semester, he was struck by a car while biking to work, fracturing his skull and rendering him unconscious for three days. After three weeks in the hospital, he re-learned how to balance, walk and speak. While his doctors suggested he drop out of school, Braxton decided nothing was going to stop him from being the first of his family to get a bachelor’s degree. When he came back to UVU, he started the Chess, Audio and Card Games Club on campus. He also started a volunteer and internship program between UVU and Primary Children’s Hospital for fellow audio and video production students, all while being a full-time student and maintaining a 3.7 GPA. This year, he opened a concert/recording space for musicians and songwriters to combat Utah’s “censorship for the sake of censorship.”

Catherine
Daniel
Braxton

Letterbox (December 2020)

Thanks for celebrating ‘Day of the Dead’

Kudos to FFRF for celebrating a “Secular Day of the Dead!”

Yes, for centuries already my fellow Mexicans have celebrated “El Dia de los Muertos.”

On that day, families gather to honor their dead by enjoying life — they eat, they drink, and they make merry.

Aren’t we humans blessed to be so creative in our efforts to prevent the grim reaper from pouring vinegar into the tasty punch of life?

Mexicans have a popular proverb, which I’ll make an effort to translate: “El muerto a la sepultura, y el vivo a la travesura!” (“The dead we must bury, but while we live, let’s be merry!”)

David Quintero
California


FFRF’s online convention exceeded expectations

Congratulations on the excellent online convention and membership meeting. Kudos to the folks who made the technology work — an amazing accomplishment.

I very much enjoyed seeing and hearing from so many different staff members. Highlighting the behind-the-scenes staff showed the strength of this organization and added a personal feeling to the meeting. It is all too easy to forget that all that behind-the-scenes work is absolutely essential and a key to the success of an organization.

FFRF is so professional in everything it does, so it is no surprise that you were able to put together such an excellent online event. I’ve always particularly valued the legal summary at conventions. It is a very powerful statement on the importance and success of FFRF.

I expected a professional and engaging event, and, as is typical, you exceeded my expectations.

Thank you to all who were involved in the event!

Cheryl Kolbe
Oregon


Check for signs of religion before buying

I recently purchased a jar of exceptionally good pickles from a small company in the Midwest. As I emptied my shopping bag at home, I decided to read the ingredients label, and just to the side of the list was a reference to a bible verse from Psalms. I wondered just how much I am paying for and consuming that supports causes that I reject. I decided to be vigilant, and, interestingly enough, not more than two weeks later, I happened to read the inside lid of my organic egg carton. And there it was . . . a bible verse from Matthew. I have since taken it up a notch, now walking behind every contractor’s truck as they arrive at my property, wanting to verify that there are no bumper stickers or decals that support causes or a point of view that I find offensive. It’s amazing what I have encountered since initiating this practice. Bottom line: Two contractor bids rejected, no more fabulous pickles and a different egg brand.

Robert Laub
Missouri


Use these funds to help the FFRF legal team

I didn’t do an IRA direct contribution this year, but figured your legal department could use some help. Please accept my donation check as an incentive to hit the ground running as soon as the election dust settles. I’m seeing a long struggle ahead.

Name withheld
California


Ben Hart was highlight of FFRF’s online convention 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for a most wonderful Covid Convention!

From Dan Barker’s delightful and irreverent entertainment through the incredible accomplishments of FFRF’s legal team in 2020 (and a cameo by Ed Asner, as well!), it was a most informative afternoon. Worth far more than the price of admission, the virtual convention was indeed a true pandemic-era prize.

With all due respect to the FFRF staff, the clear superstar of the convention  was Ben Hart. As a native Ohioan, I was pleased that Ben led a life of bliss while living in that state. But once he had the audacity to toddle across the border into Kentucky . . . yeesh!

Anyone who thinks (as I once did) that his story is that of a dude trying to get a (super-duper!) vanity plate is completely missing the point. His eloquent, succinct and witty presentation of his years-long battle had me cheering. (And did I hear him correctly that he has been married to his lovely wife for 64 years? He hardly appears to be that old!) Ben Hart is a most engaging orator and is my new hero. He is FFRF-ing amazing!

Finally, a big shout-out to FFRF’s IT Director James Phetteplace for masterminding a flawless virtual presentation. Let’s face it, many of us have attended Zoom meetings crippled by technical snafus, but none of that occurred during the online convention. He made it all look like a piece of cake.

On a dreary and raw afternoon in Wisconsin during a surging pandemic, the convention truly inspired me and gave me hope for a better 2021. Best wishes for a restorative Winter Solstice, and above all, stay safe out there.

Charles T. Bingham
Wisconsin


Secular teenagers need our attention

Please let everyone know how proud I am to be part of an organization like FFRF, and how well conducted I thought the annual meeting was — very professional.

I’m especially pleased at the increased attention you are giving to our teenagers. The kids too often get left out of secular activities and they are our future. At Camp Quest, I got a chance to talk one-on-one with a lot of secular kids, and I hadn’t fully appreciated the discrimination they often must endure — and just at the stage in life when they are trying to figure out who they are. That discrimination includes everything from dating issues to being an outcast at the lunch table at school to not being allowed to go to certain classmates’ homes. And here I thought being a secular adult in the workplace was tough!

Donald Lewellyn
Texas


Paper would be better without two sections

I read with great interest the entire newspaper, with two exceptions: The “Crankmail” and “Black Collar Crime” sections. I’m not interested in what these looney-tunes think and I’m even less interested in what those creeps do to children and vulnerable adults.

I believe it’s a waste of print and wish you could condense those sections.

Other than that, I love reading about those victories in giving those so-called religious fanatics a lesson in what it means to be a secular democracy versus a theocracy. Keep up the good work!

Joseph DiBlanca
New York


Your values are what’s meaningful to you

Human psychology (predisposed to personification), alongside ignorance and fear, invented God. The human mind naturally wants the whole shebang to be about something, for it to be of great consequence, pregnant with meaning. The human mind wants its life to be lived within grand meaning.  We want everything — the universe, our world, our lives — to be purposeful, to be sanctioned with an external seal of approval.

We believe that while we may not know what God’s divine purpose is, surely we’re integral to it. Your birth ushers you into the meaning, purpose and significance of a divine order. You matter more than you know, but matter, you do. Our natural craving for external meaning has created God and kept God going.  (Taught to most people by their beloved parents, the very idea of God becomes loved. The trappings of religion fashion solidity onto airy ideas, while fellow worshippers bestow safety in numbers to farfetched beliefs.)

Lamentably, religion fosters and promotes the wrong expectation — that all of it, including our lives — has external meaning. No. The opposite is true.

We are just another animal in the animal kingdom. We are classified among the great apes. The meaning of life is to live well your animal existence. Don’t be too hot or too cold. Don’t be too hungry or too thirsty. Stay safe. Work for good health. If you love and are loved, that’s icing on the cake. Meaning comes from within — internally, not externally — from your values. Your values come from your DNA and experiences. If you value animals, then caring for animals will be meaningful to you. If you value a knowledge of history, then the study of history will be meaningful to you. Live in accordance with your values and your life will be meaningful to you. If your values are honorable and kind, your life will be meaningful to others, as well.

The body’s decline and death are inevitable and natural. At the moment of your death, all that you are vanish — no more thoughts, no more feelings, no more experiences. That fate awaits you, as it does all animals. For that is what you solely are — an animal. Don’t deny the facts. Don’t hide in illusion. Work to live well.

Brent London
California


Seeing faces of FFRF staff was wonderful

What a feat presenting the online convention this year.

Great job by all in pulling it all together and giving us a thorough and informative virtual convention.

It was wonderful seeing all the familiar faces, even consoling. It surely made me miss coming up to the office and seeing people in person.

I look forward to the day when we can safely be together.

Thank you and to all of the staff.

Linda Josheff
Wisconsin


Alabama case pushed me to become Life Member

I have been an atheist since I was 12. That’s when my parents gave me the choice to continue to go to church or not. I immediately opted out. Although we never discussed it, I am pretty sure my mom was a nonbeliever, as she is the one who pushed to not have me baptized, much to the astonishment and lifetime ire of my paternal Southern Baptist grandmother.

I have always enjoyed reading Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins. And back in 2014, I came across Dan Barker’s book Godless. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his transformation from a preacher to a regular reasonable person. By the way, I loved the quote: “I was the guy you didn’t want to sit next to on the bus.”

It was at that time that I first found out about FFRF and I joined immediately, as I wanted to be part of a group that was standing up for the basic ideals of this country, which, for me, includes the ability to have all the religion/mythology you want, but keep it away from me and my government.

After reading Freethought Today and the story about the voter registration requirement in Alabama to sign off on “so help me God,” even though there is already case law in Torcaso v. Watkins on the books, it got my ire! As a result of that story, I have decided to become a Lifetime Member to help in your continued pursuit of reason and sanity. Keep up the necessary work!

David Ford
New Mexico


Congrats to secular invocation winners

Congratulations to Sarah Ray and Ann Landman for their perseverance and courage in achieving the acceptance of their local city councils in Lake Wales, Fla., and Grand Junction, Colo., to allow them to give secular invocations. I hope that, in the not-too-distant future, all local and municipal governments in this country will adhere to what our founders intended to establish when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — a permanent wall between religion and government.

Steve Taulbee
Maryland


Baha’i faith no different than other religions

In James Haught’s piece in the November Freethought Today, James mentioned Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i faith. Years ago, a businessman in my hometown actually started a Baha’i Fellowship and attracted some members. I looked into Baha’i and briefly considered joining this fellowship as Baha’i sounded more interesting to me than the Christian sects I’d known. But, ultimately, it turned out to be just as conservative, just as pray-pay-and-obey as all the other churches in the area. (The business has long since closed, and the businessman has evidently left the area, taking his Baha’i Fellowship with him.)

Andrew C. Jones
Michigan

Overheard (December 2020)

To suggest that somehow this federal government is hostile to faith and we must vote for Donald Trump to protect Christendom is one of the stupidest arguments I have ever heard in my life. . . . Look what the Supreme Court has done on religious liberty, specifically protecting religious liberty of conservative Christians! . . . I’ve got a lot of the same beliefs that you have. But those similarities stop when I think that the protection of my faith, of my evangelical faith, should only be applied to me and not applied to Catholics, not applied to Jews, not applied to Muslims, not applied to the others.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC host of “Morning Joe.”

Mediaite.com, 11-5-20


The issue with the Nones isn’t that religion is bad; it’s that it needs to be kept out of secular government policymaking. And science needs to be in.

Danny Westneat, in his column, “Power of the ‘Nones’ in a growing religious gap, or why sex ed passed so easily.” In Washington, a referendum on whether to mandate sex education in the schools passed with 60 percent of the vote.

Seattle Times, 11-6-20


I understand that one can be shocked by cartoons, but I will never accept that one can justify violence. Our freedoms, our rights, I consider it our vocation to protect them.

French President Emmanuel Macron, defending cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad following the beheading of a teacher, who showed his class caricatures of Muhammad as part of a lesson on free speech.

Washington Post, 10-31-20


I think what happened was, over time, white evangelical orthodoxy on politics sort of just melded into Republican orthodoxy, and there’s no difference anymore. We used to always believe that religion was the first cause and then politics was downstream of religion,” but newer studies suggest that “those two lenses have switched places now and that partisanship is the first cause and now religion is downstream of partisanship.

Ryan Burge, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, quoted in a column by Elizabeth Breunig, “Why evangelicals aren’t what they used to be.”

Washington Post, 11-6-20


[America’s massive failure of character] is the culmination of Trump’s influence among Republicans, and among white evangelical Christians in particular. Their main justification for supporting Trump — that the president’s character should be ignored in favor of his policies — has become a serious danger to the republic. . . . Under the president’s influence, white evangelicals went from the group most likely to believe personal morality matters in a politician to the group that is least likely.

Michael Gerson, in his column “This is a massive failure of character among Republicans — with evangelicals out in front.”

Washington Post, 11-12-20


[White evangelicals] are, as a group, dying out (median age in the late 50s), and their views are hardly recognizable to many other Americans. . . .White evangelicals have become, in essence, an offshore island, one whose inhabitants are slowly but steadily distancing themselves from the American mainland. The fading Island of White Evangelica will, eventually, lose its influence over America.

Dana Milbank, in his column, “Trump’s racist appeals powered a white evangelical tsunami.”

Washington Post, 11-13-20