New billboards are up near the campuses of Stanford University and the University of Tennessee as part of a nationwide campaign by FFRF featuring young freethinkers of color who have overcome discrimination in heavily religious communities.
“I was raised as a Baptist Christian, but I put God to the test with my scientific thinking — and he didn’t survive,” says Therrin Wilson, a University of Tennessee senior who is featured on the billboard that sits on the campus in Knoxville. “I’ve had to overcome friends, family, and relationships all shutting me out, but overcoming that adversity is what made me as proud to be an atheist as I am to be an African-American. Organizations such as the Secular Student Alliance and Freedom From Religion Foundation all contribute to the atheist sense of belonging, so it’s like a second home to me.”
Anissa Foster, a Stanford University sophomore who grew up attending Islamic schools and mosques before breaking with tradition, is featured on the billboard that is up in Palo Alto, which is adjacent to Stanford.
“Throughout the world, women are oppressed and oversexualized by misogynistic religions,” Foster says. “We as Muslim women can’t keep living under a veil anymore; we have to demand rights and we have to demand equality. For me, that means speaking out about the oppression of women in my religion and all religions.”
This year, for the first time, FFRF featured some of its essay contest award winners in billboards and digital video ads shown across the country. Wilson and Foster were a couple of its recent honorees and selected for the billboard because of their strong messages. FFRF pays out more than $80,000 in scholarship award money annually in five separate essay competitions (high school, college, students of color, grad school, law school).
“FFRF is committed to helping young freethinkers like Anissa to come out of the closet and speak up,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-founded FFRF with her late mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor. “FFRF came into existence after our realization that the battle for women’s rights would never be won until we got to the root cause of that oppression — religion and its influence over our laws. Anne would have loved seeing strong freethinkers like Anissa taking the reins of leadership.”
The billboard near Stanford is not FFRF’s first foray into the Bay Area. FFRF held its national convention in San Francisco in 2018, featuring freethinkers, humanists and nonbelievers from across the country and world. It was keynoted by author Salman Rushdie and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, the only “out” nonbeliever in Congress, who spoke and received an award.