An annual award recognizing statements about the shortcomings of religion by public figures was announced in April by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group working to educate about freethought and to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
The award, a statue, is based on the folk tale "The Emperor Has No Clothes," the Hans Christian Andersen story of two con men, weavers, who convince a gullible emperor that the cloth they supposedly have woven is so exquisite that only the very wise can see it. The emperor parades before his subjects in his imaginary finery until a child calls out: "But the emperor has no clothes!"
Religion, freethinkers contend, has a similar imaginary base.
The Emperor statue is described by Foundation president Anne Gaylor as "an engaging, golden figure clad only in shoes and a fig leaf" and carrying a mirror and sceptre. It was produced by the same firm that does the "Oscars."
The six public figures named for the awards are: Katha Pollitt, columnist; Andy Rooney, CBS commentator; Ted Turner, CNN founder; Janeane Garofalo, comedienne-actress; George Carlin, standup comic; and Jesse Ventura, Minnesota governor.
Gaylor noted that Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, consistently points out religion's devastating effects on women; Andy Rooney has written of his long-held freethought views; Ted Turner regularly is called on the Christian carpet for his candor; Janeane Garofalo and George Carlin both have witty, popular routines challenging religion's claims; and Jesse Ventura made lasting news with his Playboy interview (Nov. '99): "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."
The Foundation presented its debut Emperor award to Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, a renowned physicist, at the Foundation's convention in San Antonio, Texas (Nov. '99).
Prof. Weinberg said: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
The Foundation plans to make the awards an annual April event to coincide with the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth (April 13, 1743). Jefferson, whose writings criticized religion and who especially valued separation of church and state, was one of the most skeptical of U.S. presidents.
The "Emperor" award was suggested and financed by a West Coast Foundation member who wishes to be anonymous.
Awards have been mailed or UPS'ed to recipients, except for Katha Pollitt who will be presented with hers in person when she comes to Madison to speak at the Foundation's 2001 convention the weekend of Sept. 21-23.
Plain Speaking on the Subject of Religion Honored
- deck: Awards Given National Figures