Holly Baer is the first recipient of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's $1,000 Yip Harburg Youth Activist Award, generously endowed by the Yip Harburg Foundation and FFRF members Ernie and Margie Harburg, the children of the famous lyricist of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
The award was spurred by Holly's Nov. 3 op-ed headlined "This misrepresentation of church and state" in the Daily Mississippian (the University of Mississippi at Oxford student newspaper). It detailed FFRF's complaint to the city of Collins about unconstitutional mixing of state and church in a city-owned park in which Christian displays had been placed for decades.
Holly also detailed the vitriolic reaction to the complaint on new stories online:
- "Those nonbelievers need a city of their own to move to. Far far away from us."
- "They will have their own city, it's called HELL."
- "I think the city should take the complainer down."
Holly, a senior, later told FFRF:
When I enrolled in the University of Mississippi to pursue a degree in religious studies, I intended to me a missionary and live abroad spreading the gospel. Three years later, I am an outspoken writer, columnist and blogger chronicling my own struggles and frustrations as an ex-Christian in the Deep South.
When my hometown of Collins received a complaint from FFRF for illegal Christian decorations, I watched and listened to family and acquaintances make combative statements toward the person who informed FFRF of the legal violations. Many called for the "complainer" to be run out of town and said they deserved to have their house burned down.
Almost the entirety of my family, including those who no longer lived in Collins, went to the "Rally For Christmas" at a town hall meeting to discussing how to handle the letter of complaint. Instead, it became a religious revival, with Mayor V.O. Smith pledging to keep the decorations up.
As an opinion columnist for the Daily Mississippian, I wrote a response condemning the behavior I had seen as well as the superiority complex of Christians in the state. Despite claiming to be one of the best, most Christian states, Mississippi mostly excels at teen pregnancy, obesity, lack of education and a slew of other negative things. Mississippi has a history of explosive responses to being required to follow the law. The persecution complex is fueled by the idea that Christianity deserves a special place in society.
After graduation, I plan to continue writing and speaking out as a nonbeliever. I am pursing a master of fine arts in poetry, where nonbelief, subversion of religious themes and the conflict of my identity versus my upbringing have become central in my poems. I hope to continue to be involved with FFRF and to advocate for true separation of church and state.
Holly's blog is titled "Sex, Religion, Politics and other topics to avoid at the dinner table."
Nonbelief Relief, a new humanitarian agency to enable nonbelievers to make charitable donations under the banner of freethought, has announced some end-of-the-year grants.
Nonbelief Relief seeks to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice, whether the result of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious dogma. It also seeks to provide assistance for individuals targeted for nonbelief, secular activism or blasphemy.
The grants are:
- $20,000: World Food Program USA, designated for Syria. WFP, the largest humanitarian agency (affiliated with the United Nations) fighting hunger worldwide, notes, "Since fighting first broke out in 2011, the crisis in Syria has become WFP's largest and most complex emergency worldwide. Today, more than a third of the country's population has fled the ongoing civil war. More than half of the refugees are children."
The Nonbelief Relief board felt this gift will help save lives jeopardized in part by a major religious conflagration.
- $10,000: Camp Quest scholarships to help needy students who could not otherwise afford to attend 2016 camps.
Although Nonbelief Relief is not primarily a local charity, the board agreed it's important to contribute to one's community and voted for these local or statewide grants:
- $12,000: OM Tiny Houses. This will pay for a "tiny house" for a homeless person who contributes "sweat equity." A community of Tiny Houses shelters is a project of Occupy Madison Inc. and is being built in Madison, Wis.
- $10,000 additional pledge to the city of Madison, contingent on city approval of a proposal to spend $10,000 to place permanent lockers for the homeless in or near downtown.
"As FFRF has downtown residency, we are acutely aware of the homeless crisis here in Madison," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Nonbelief Relief administrator.
- $2,500: Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.
- $25,000 pledge: Women's Medical Fund Inc., believed to be the longest continuously operating abortion rights charity in the nation, helping more than 20,000 needy Wisconsin women pay for abortion care. The board voted to give the money on Jan. 22, 2016, in honor of Anne Gaylor, FFRF's principal founder, who died in June, and also co-founded the WMF and administered it from about 1976 to March 2015.
In October, Nonbelief Relief gave $20,000 to Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontières), raising several thousand additional dollars from FFRF donors. The grant was earmarked for the charity to use in Afghanistan after the Oct. 3 aerial bombing by the U.S. military of the group's hospital in Kunduz, killing 22 people and injuring 37 others.
Nonbelief Relief was incorporated in 2015, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation as its sole member. The board is made up of Gaylor, FFRF Co-President Dan Barker as vice president, FFRF Director of Operations Lisa Strand as secretary/treasurer, and Jim Zerwick and Stephen Hirtle, who also serve on FFRF's board.
Donations can be made via FFRF, either by explicitly earmarking your check for Nonbelief Relief or by selecting "Nonbelief Relief" from the designation dropdown at ffrf.org/donate/. If given via FFRF, the donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.