By Jeff Prebeg
Two years ago,
I became an atheist activist. While I’ve been an atheist for much longer, it wasn’t until some sad and troubled times that I sought a community. Through podcasts and social media, I recreated myself and began the fight for the separation of church and state. But more importantly, I wanted it to be OK for other atheists to come out and be proud. In that time, I made some lifelong friends and connections that aid me to this day.
In those days, I applied for a vanity license plate — “ATHE1ST” — and was promptly denied by the state of Pennsylvania. With the help of FFRF, specifically attorney Andrew Seidel, I was able to receive my license plate. And my car has been a billboard for atheist activism to this day!
Very recently, an exchange happened with that tweet from a fellow atheist friend from across the country. Muffy, as she’s known online, asked me how it has been driving around with that plate. Our conversation was interesting enough for me to have the honor of sharing my experiences with you.
My car is older — a 2005 Chevy Aveo — so I went in with the knowledge that something drastic might happen to it. But I’ve learned not to let the enemies win in the face of injustice, so I proudly have several other atheist bumper stickers to go along with my license plate. I’m privileged enough that I don’t have to terribly worry about the car itself, so I’m happy to be a billboard. And so far, I haven’t had much of anything to worry about.
While living in the relatively religious (Roman Catholic) city of Pittsburgh, it’s still not the Bible Belt or a deeply rural area where such vandalism is likely to occur. I’ve seen a few scowls, but the experience has mostly been very positive. I’ve had the occasional horn honks and middle fingers flown my way, but the cheers and thumbs-up far outnumber them. I also am a cautious and courteous driver. I never want to cut someone off and have them think, “That darn atheist!” It also has become a rallying point for my local secular organization. People know me and my fight and have been very supportive.
I once took a road trip to Indianapolis to visit friends (Hi, Dan and Natalie!) and that definitely caused me some anxiety. I can say it was harrowing to drive my tiny little car with all its atheist paraphernalia on a big highway in Indiana and see giant trucks come speeding up behind me. But truth be told, nothing happened at all. No one paid me any attention the entire time out, there, and back.
Again, I’m privileged to have had nothing happen. As I’m now a part of this select club, I pay close attention to the news stories of vandalized cars and plates bent and damaged. Honestly, I wish all those could have the experience I’ve had, and while I hope this, I know it’s something I signed up for.
In these troubling times for state-church separation, I have a big target on my back as a soldier in that fight. But honestly, as I’ve come to learn about myself, I relish it. Discussions that have cropped up because of it, while sometimes hard or scary, are absolutely necessary. Another Twitter follower told me how he wept as he read my news story because his job all but prevented him from being an out atheist but he was so happy an internet friend could be.
And I’ve come to learn, that’s my role in this important fight. I have the privilege and ability to be out, so I’m going to use it to my fullest. I’m going to be as out and proud as possible, to hopefully aid those who can’t. And if I can be honest, I’m so excited for that day, because it is coming.
Jeff Prebeg is an FFRF member from Pittsburgh.