What do nonbelievers do during the month of December? They “come out of the closet,” at least in Sacramento, in a way that cannot be ignored.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its new Sacramento chapter are unveiling 55 separate billboards in December around California’s capital city and suburbs, featuring the smiling faces and unapologetically forthright views of area nonbelievers.
The motto of the “out of the closet” campaign is: "Many faces make Enlightenment work." Each billboard pictures and features a different local atheist or freethinker, using his or her own words. More than 55 participants are involved, since some of the billboards feature couples, friends or families.
For instance, newlywed Judy Saint, director of FFRF Greater Sacramento Chapter, is featured on a billboard with her wife, Kathy Johnson, saying: “Reason. Equality. Doing Good. — All without gods.” They are one of six couples.
Also included: Barri Babow and Mike Kirkland of Folsom: “We believe in making the world a better place.” Barri is identified as a cancer survivor and both as “cat lovers” and humanists.
Making this world better is one of several common themes, include believing in and trusting oneself and humanity, rather than a god; embracing healthy skepticism; promoting science, and living, loving, being moral and doing good without god. As Sacramento teacher Liz Shoemaker, put it: “I believe in people, not gods.” Other billboard messages are simply plain-spoken: “Reasonable faith is a contradiction in terms,” says aerospace engineer Bryson T. Sullivan.
Some turn religious testimonials on their head, such as 20-year-old Reace Niles’ message: “I’m an atheist, and I’ve never been happier,” and Sacramento student Noel Navarro, who has a message for Oprah Winfrey: “I’m not a believer, and life is still awesome!”
Quilters and friends Karla Sprandel and Susan Myers, Sacramento secular humanists, show off their quilts and their philosophy: “No gods, no devils, no worries.”
Playful messages include Rancho Cordova homemaker Maggie Johns’ quip: “I don’t believe in Odin, either.”
While most participants self-identify as atheists, some prefer to call themselves agnostics, humanists or secular humanists. There’s even one “Pastafarian,” Sacramento tech support worker Elizabeth Porter, a devotee of the tongue-in-cheek Flying Spaghetti Monster.
“We’re just very proud of our Sacramento chapter and its members,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We had to lease more boards from a second outdoor company just to keep up with the demand.”
Sacramento is the sixth city FFRF has taken its unique, “out of the closet” public relations campaign to. Previous cities include Madison, Wis., where FFRF is based, Tulsa, Raleigh, Columbus, Phoenix and Spokane. A similar campaign also went up last year in Portland, Ore., featuring local freethinkers on boards saying “I’m secular and I vote” and “This is what an atheist looks like.”
The campaign’s objective is to reveal to communities the diversity of nonbelievers within their ranks. “Many people have met, do business with, and are friends with atheists — but don’t realize it,” Gaylor added.
But it’s also a chance for freethinkers to openly express themselves. In the month of December, Gaylor noted, the views of non-Christians, especially nonbelievers, are often suppressed. “Those of us who are free from religion, who work to keep dogma out of government, science, medicine and education, have a lot to offer society,” she said.
FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, with nearly 20,000 members, is the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics, including about 3,000 in California.
FFRF sends “awed thanks” to professional photographer Matt Martin, who volunteered his services, and is pictured on a board with his wife, Kimberley, who is also an atheist. Their message: “Integrity and compassion require no gods.”
FFRF also warmly thanks Judy Saint for her superb coordination and energy, and all participants for making freethought history.
Locations of our billboards:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which represents over 650 members in Colorado, plus a Denver area chapter, filed its final answer this month in the state’s appeal of its Colorado Day of Prayer victory in state appeals court. The case is now before the Colorado State Supreme Court awaiting a final ruling.
FFRF’s 46-page answer brief in Hickenlooper v. FFRF was filed on Nov. 8. A friend of the court brief also filed on FFRFs behalf, by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Colorado and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Plaintiffs are FFRF, a national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with nearly 20,000 members, and individual Colorado FFRF members Mike Smith, David Habecker, Timothy G. Bailey and Jeff Baysinger.
On behalf of FFRF, attorney Richard L. Bolton, Madison, Wis., and local counsel Daniele W. Bonifazi, noted that the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations serve only a religious purpose — to advance the views of the National Day of Prayer Task Force headquartered in Colorado Springs. The proclamations, as admitted government speech, are perceived as government support of the Task Force’s narrow brand of Christianity. Participation by government officials, especially state governors, is critical to the NDP Task Force efforts, which are Christian and exclusionary in nature.
“Religious zealots must place their faith in their own message, rather than trying to piggyback on the prestige and credibility of government endorsements,” FFRF submitted in its filing.
FFRF filed the lawsuit in 2008 in state court against then-Gov. Bill Ritter, Jr., who in 2007 had spoken at the Day of Prayer celebration on the steps of the Colorado capitol, stating that “We should be prayerful in all things.” A unanimous 3-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on May 10, 2012, in FFRF’s favor: “A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.”
On May 20, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court granted Gov. John Hickenlooper's petition for review. The court will decide whether to uphold the appellate decision, which held that FFRF and four of its members have standing and that the state constitution disallows the governor's "Colorado Day of Prayer" exhortations.
The ACLU and AU’s friend of the court brief championed the standing of individual FFRF members to sue over this violation of Colorado’s no-preference clause: “A proclamation from the chief executive office of the state is a powerful symbol and places the imprimatur of the state on prayer as a mode of worship, a well as on the particular religious faiths supported by the proclamations.”
FFRF called the Colorado Day of Prayer highly divisive, and exclusionary of nonbelievers.
“We greatly appreciate the ACLU, the ACLU of Colorado and AU’s friend of the court brief, and the participation of our local plaintiffs, without whom FFRF could not challenge this state/church entanglement,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
By Peter J. Reilly