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Individual Activism

14 Ways to Get Active, Right Now!

Freethought contingent of FFRF members
  1. Monitor local state/church abuses

    Work with the Foundation to protest clear-cut violations of the separation between church and state, such as prayers or religious instruction in public schools. Contact the Foundation office promptly with pertinent facts, names and addresses. You may mail or fax materials to FFRF's staff attorney:

    FFRF, Inc.
    PO Box 750 
    Madison WI 53701
    Fax: (608) 204-0422
    Online: State/Church Violation Form

    If it's an emergency violation (taking place soon at a school, for example), phone our office at:
    (608) 256-8900

    It it not easy to end violations where there is no established law or Supreme Court precedent to invoke. But a prompt complaint by a local citizen at the very least helps to educate about the importance of state/church separation, and may prevent a future or worse abuse.

  2. Write a letter to the editor

    This remains one of the cheapest and most effective ways to affect public opinion. Succinct letters (typed if sent by regular mail) with a clear focus, responding to timely issues, have the best chance of publication. Most newspapers prefer to print letters written directly to their editorial page editor (rather than photocopies or open letters addressed at large). Many Foundation members have been successful in having letters published which also publicize the Foundation‘s name, or even website or address. 

    Not to be overlooked: letters or emails praising newspapers, TV or radio shows for featuring secular viewpoints or guests. It takes courage to publish or include controversial opinions, to provide equal time for freethought. Positive feedback is always appreciated, and shows newspapers or talkshows such views have an audience.

  3. Join the campaign to pressure Boy Scouts of America

    The Boy Scouts of America has expelled or refused admittance to nonreligious boys, while relying on public handouts and support. In 2000, the Boy Scouts won a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled it a private group that is free to discriminate. The case in question involved gays, but the ruling leaves nonreligious Boy Scouts with little chance of legal redress. Local troops in the past have traditionally met for free at public schools and relied on public school teachers to recruit. If this is happening in your area, you can help combat BSA bigotry by contacting your local school board and neighborhood schools, asking them to stop supporting or giving preferential aid to an openly discriminatory group. You can also contact your local United Way, which is not supposed to fund groups which discriminate on the basis of religion. If they grant BSA troops financial assistance, ask them to stop. If you have been a regular United Way contributor, be sure to let them know. Nationally, United Way has traditionally provided at least a quarter of BSA‘s financial assistance. Write:

    United Way
    President Brian Gallagher
    United Way of America
    701 N Fairfax St.
    Alexandria VA 22314

    For the record, you may wish to complain to the Boys Scouts of America directly:

    Robert J. Mazzuca
    National Scout Executive
    Boy Scouts of America
    1325 Walnut Hill Lane
    Irving TX 75015

    For more information, see Boy Scouts of America Practices Discrimination.

  4. Don't vote in a church!

    In many places, one-third to one-half of all polling places are churches. Citizens should not have to fulfill their most civil function of all--voting--in a church or religious school. These days the cross is increasingly used as a symbol of political intimidation and many churches are not neutral on election issues. If you have to vote in a church, complain! Usually your city or county representative has the authority to suggest changes to polling places. A local rep is more apt than a bureaucrat to respond to a citizen complaint. Suggest secular alternatives (particularly those with handicapped access): libraries, public schools (it‘s so educational for students to witness Election Day), fire stations, malls, etc. Even if this abuse does not affect you personally, you may still wish to complain to your city clerk or registrar if this is a growing trend in your area. Polling sites are published in newspapers prior to local elections. In some states, polling sites receive public compensation, making this a more serious entanglement.

  5. Suggest the Foundation for talkshows

    There may be radio talkshows in your area that regularly feature out-of-town guests by long distance. Foundation staff can field questions from the Foundation office in Madison, Wisconsin. This is a good way to educate the public and reach other freethinkers. Talkshow hosts and producers are usually appreciative of guest suggestions—especially from their regular listeners—and if they have recently featured a religionist or religious topic, they may be open to a suggestion for balance.

  6. Make sure your local library carries freethought books

    Request your favorite freethought books for your library. Fill out a request card for Foundation-published books, including:

        • Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist by Dan Barker
        • One Woman‘s Fight by Vashti McCollum
        • The Born Again Skeptic‘s Guide to the Bible by Ruth Green
        • Women Without Superstition: ‘No Gods - No Masters‘ by Annie Laurie Gaylor
        • Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So by Annie Laurie Gaylor
        • American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll by Orvin Larson
        • Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children by Dan Barker

    If you are kind enough to donate books to libraries, please note that all libraries do not necessarily accept such donations, so it is wise to check with them first, then follow up to make sure they make it on the shelf!

    Freethought Books

  7. Request that your local library carry Freethought Today

    At least 5% - 10% of the people where you live are freethinkers, according to almost all polls, and as many as one third of them may be freethinkers if you live in the West. More than 15% of American adults are "nonreligious." There is every reason for your public library to carry a periodical catering to freethinkers.

  8. Offer Foundation CDs to local alternative radio stations

    Can you have a proper social movement without music? It‘s out there. Suggest your favorite freethought songs or bands, or try to interest your local alternative radio station or listener-sponsored radio station to play selections from the Foundation‘s two music CDs featuring Dan Barker: "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," a double CD with 34 traditional, contemporary and original freethought songs, and "Beware of Dogma," with 15 timely and timeless songs.

    Freethought Music

  9. Complain about TV evangelism

    Complain to your local cable TV provider about excessive religious programming. If your "cable package" includes a lot of religious programming, complain to your local cable provider each time you pay a bill!

  10. Sponsor a debate or public appearance

    College kids love debates and media often cover them! Staff member Dan Barker, a former fundamentalist minister who is ideal for debating religionists, would do a debate a month if he had the chance. If you have a connection with your local university, try to get a student group or department to sponsor a debate. Dan gives many freethought concerts at local UU and Ethical Culture congregations, colleges, etc., as well as speeches about the Foundation, freethought and the separation of church and state.

  11. Advertise freethought!

    Don‘t let religionists win by default! The Foundation often receives mail from a lone freethinker claiming to be the "only freethinker in Montana," the "only atheist in Utah, " or the "only agnostic in my hometown." Many freethinkers feel isolated because other freethinkers don‘t speak up. Let sympathetic friends and family know there is a group representing freethought and working for state/church separation. If you enjoy really advertising your views, the Foundation has produced bumperstickers, "nontracts," buttons, solstice cards, T-shirts, and sweatshirts with educational freethought messages. The best source for finding new members of the Foundation is you—the existing member.

    FFRF Shop

  12. Promote the Foundation‘s annual student essay contests

    One of the most important services provided by the Foundation is outreach to freethinking young people. Since 1979, the Foundation has sponsored an annual essay competition, awarding cash scholarships to freethinking youths. Today, the Foundation sponsors two essay competitions, one for currently enrolled college students and one for high school seniors who will be college-bound. The essays are announced in Freethought Today and online every February. Tell the students in your life, or the public schools or universities in your area, about this unique opportunity.

    Student Essay Contests

  13. Challenge friends and family to take the FFRF quizzes

    A fun way to learn about the harm of using the bible in government functions or invoking it in our laws is by taking the Foundation‘s online bible quiz. (Even believers may learn to look at the bible more critically by taking our quiz.) What Do You Really Know About The Bible? Even more important, every citizen should understand the secular nature of the U.S. Constitution and What Do You Know About State/Church Separation? is an entertaining way to learn more about the First Amendment.

  14. Sign up for "FFRF News" and "Action Alerts"

    If you are a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, you are eligible to be placed on the Foundation‘s FFRF News/Action Alerts email list. To sign up, check your email preferences after clicking 'My Membership' at the top of ffrf.org.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declared Jan. 22 — the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — as "Protect Life Day."

The opening line of his pandering proclamation is blatantly untrue. He states that the U.S. Supreme Court decision "legalized abortion for any reason for the full nine months of pregnancy in all of the United States."

Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the first trimester without restrictions; it limited regulation in the second trimester to protect the woman's health and safety; and it gave the government the right to restrict or bar third trimester abortions.
Statistics show that about 87% of abortions take place in the first trimester, with 12% occurring after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only about 1.3% are performed after the 20th week. Late-term abortions are usually to save a pregnant woman's life, such as when a woman discovers she is carrying a dead or brainless fetus.

Walker should retract and apologize to the citizens of Wisconsin for his shameful misstatement. Truth should matter, even to a fundamentalist.

We didn't elect Walker "Fundamentalist in Chief." He should keep his absurd Religious Right opinions to himself.

* * * *

We should be honoring, not casting aspersions, on this landmark decision for women's rights. As Margaret Sanger noted so many years ago in her quest to bring contraception to women, "No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation would not exist were it not for the Religious Right's war on reproductive freedom. My mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, had her eyes opened to the harm of religious sway over secular law when she founded the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion in 1968.

Tagging along with her as a junior and senior in high school, my eyes were also opened. Seeing the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda and hearing rooms crowded with nuns, priests and bussed-in Catholic schoolchildren invoking "God" and the bible in all their testimony, we realized that while there were many women's groups chipping away at women's oppression, none was going to the root of the problem: organized religion.

I still remember my own and my mother's ecstatic joy when we first heard the news about Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973. The brutal battle, state by state, to try to decriminalize abortion had been ended in one fell swoop. We didn't know then how vicious and unrelenting the religion-fueled anti-choice movement would be, but here we are 40 years later, and Roe, while a bit battle-worn, is still the law of the land. My mother has written about the historic fight to overturn antiabortion laws in Wisconsin in her book, Abortion Is a Blessing.  

Today, at 86, she is literally still answering the daily calls for the Women's Medical Fund, the abortion-rights charity she co-founded (with other atheists such as professor Robert West) in the 1970s. This pure charity has helped pay for abortions for more than 20,000 Wisconsin women — indigent women who should qualify for medical assistance but who are denied the right to abortion due to the Religious Right lobby, which has cut off abortion funding in Wisconsin and in many states and federally under the Hyde Amendment.

Daily she takes calls from teenagers, rape victims, victims of domestic abuse, those with many children already, ill and homeless women, living in conditions few of us can imagine, who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and no place to turn.

We are winning the reproductive war. We see U.S. Catholic bishops defeated in their attempts to sabotage the contraceptive mandate and bishops overseas failing to stop state-funded contraception in the Philippines. But as we celebrate 40 years of freedom for women, we must redouble our efforts to end the religion-fostered cut-off of public assistance for indigent women needing abortion care in the U.S. These forgotten and disenfranchised women deserve the same right to constitutional privacy, to control their own bodies, as the more affluent.

Atheists do indeed start and run charities. Please read the Women's Medical Fund's letter of appeal to learn more about the need. I challenge everyone who is offended by Governor Walker's proclamation, who has the means to do so, to fight back by making a charitable donation to the Women's Medical Fund.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is author of Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So and is editor of the anthology Women Without Superstition: No Gods — No Masters.

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Lively atheists in Mexico City

p24  mexico

At Zócalo, Mexico City’s central plaza, are (left) professor Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True, Gerardo Romero Quijada, founder and activist with Mexican Atheists; and FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. (Their spread-out arms are in honor of Dan Barker, who does this trademark pose wherever he travels.) They were sightseeing after the conclusion of the second colloquium on Mexican atheism Nov. 2-3. Gaylor spoke at the conference, as did Coyne, Michael Shermer and several Mexican scientists and freethinking activists. The Governor’s Palace in the background features a major Diego Rivera mural which is strongly anticlerical and explicitly celebrates Mexico’s formal separation between state and church.

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‘This house does not believe in God’

By Dan Barker
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Steve Dan Dan

FFRF members Steve Aldred (left) and Daniel Saiz (right) joined FFRF Co-President Dan Barker for a post-debate reception.

I’ve done more than 100 debates as an atheist, but really looked forward to my first visit to Oxford, England, to debate the proposition, “This House Believes in God.” Members of the Oxford Society invited me, Michael Shermer and Peter Millican (philosophy, Hertford College) for a formal debate Nov. 8.

We teamed up against theists John Lennox (well-known Oxford professor of mathematics and philosophy), Peter Hitchens (journalist, author and former atheist) and Anglican priest Joanna Collicut (co-author of The Dawkins Delusion). 

It was a formal black-tie evening, so I brought my nice tuxedo that I use for playing jazz gigs and country clubs. I’m sure I was the only person in the room with piano keyboard suspenders.

The Oxford Union is “the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford.” Founded in 1823, it welcomes and encourages controversy. “The Oxford Union believes first and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less.”

Many of the protocols of modern-day British Parliament stem from Oxford Union customs. Eleven British prime ministers, starting with W.E. Gladstone, have been officers or members. Dozens of other members have gone on to become nationally and internationally prominent figures.

Famous speakers at the Union include many presidents and prime ministers, actors, sports figures, authors, journalists, the Dalai Lama, Malcolm X, Salman Rushdie, Mother Teresa, Philip Pullman, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.

The formality was enhanced by the fact that Richard Dawkins was in the audience. After a delicious supper and preliminaries, the main event began. We spoke with no microphones in the formal Debate Chamber, with hardwood floor and busts of famous people around the red walls.

We stood on respective sides of a practical table on the floor (no lofty pulpits), with most of the audience at the same level, and many in the balconies above us. We were each allotted 15 minutes. 

John Lennox, our most formidable and articulate opponent, went first, speaking for the proposition. John has a likable relaxed personality, a warm avuncular style with an Irish twinkle in his eyes.

Atheism is illogical, Lennox asserted, because “nothing comes from nothing.” There is no contradiction between science and faith. An immaterial God is free to show himself to us in a material way using revelation, and the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus is clear evidence for the existence and power of such a being.

According to Lennox, the constants (forces or parameters) of the cosmos are so exquisitely balanced that if one of them were off by the tiniest fraction, we would not be living in a universe hospitable to life. Besides, without a belief in the Christian God, there is no hope.

My turn

I spoke next, for the opposition. It was my job to introduce the main ideas in opposition to theistic belief, putting as much as possible on the table for our opponents to rebut and setting the stage for Michael and Peter to drive the points home using their considerable areas of expertise.

I prepared a 10-minute opening, anticipating that I might appreciate the extra five-minute elbow room to insert specific rebuttals or allow interruptions from the floor. I turned to Lennox and said, “If nothing comes from nothing, God cannot exist.” A god, if such a being exists, is not nothing. To exclude the desired conclusion from the premise is to beg the question.

Smuggling God into the reasoning that is supposed to prove his existence also results in an incoherency, a “married bachelor,” a something that comes from the nothing from which something cannot come. If “God” is defined as an omniscient being with free will, then he cannot exist.

If you know the future, you cannot have free will. Foreknowledge of your own decisions rules out any ability to change your mind. You are a robot, not a personal being. 

In response to interruptions, I briefly sketched the cumulative case that belief in a god suffers from serious deficiencies: lack of coherent definition, lack of evidence, lack of good argument (many theistic arguments are merely “god-of-the-gaps” explanations), lack of moral and theological agreement among believers, lack of good response to the problem of evil, and the lack of reliability of so-called holy books.

I turned to Lennox to counter that the resurrection of Jesus is the worst example anyone could offer as evidence for a god, and explained why. I ended with the fact that there is no need for a god: Tens of millions of good people have lives of purpose, morality, love, meaning, happiness, beauty and hope without such a belief.

As I returned to my seat next to Michael Shermer, he said “Bravo! You nailed it!” and we did high fives.

Then it was Joanna Collicut’s turn to argue for the proposition. I listened carefully, ready to take notes, but her monotone remarks were so vague, so Sunday morning sermonish, I really don’t remember what she said.

Michael Shermer virtually leaped to the table to take up for the opposition. He made the case that god beliefs are neurological, psychological, sociological, anthropological and historical. He challenged the audacity of pretending that out of the thousands of gods and religions, you just happen to possess the correct one.

“I simply believe in one less god than you do,” he said, eliciting much laughter and applause. He talked about pattern recognition and agency detection, Type 1 versus Type 2 errors (thinking the noise in the grass is the wind rather than a predator), showing that god belief is a Type 1 error (false positive) that was useful to our prescientific ancestors for survival reasons.

Very different Peters

Then came Peter Hitchens, the believing Anglican brother of Christopher Hitchens. (If anyone doubts the fact of evolutionary variation, just look at those two brothers.) Hitchens was combative and unfriendly, pitching ad hominem assaults. “I decided that I would abandon any pretense at being Mr. Nice Guy,” he wrote the next day. “Why would anyone want the universe to be a pointless chaos, where our actions could be judged only by their immediate observable effects, a universe utterly without the hope of justice, where death was the end and the deaths of those we loved extinguished them irrevocably? Well, the question, once asked, rather answers itself, doesn’t it?”

Hitchens apparently does believe all questions answer themselves because he brusquely declined interruptions from the audience.

Peter Millican, on our side, was last. He was brilliant and deftly handled the theistic arguments raised by Lennox, responding with philosophical rebuttals to the “fine tuning” argument, and the problem of evil. If there actually were an afterlife, how would future “justice” make our current suffering any less harmful?

When he sat down, I said, “Strike three! They’re out.” And I was right. At the end of the event, President John Lee announced to the audience that they were to “vote with your feet.” Our side won.

So although the exact proposition was indeed about belief and not knowledge, I think it is fair to say that it has been decided, by an Oxford vote no less, that there is no god.

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Sharing the Crank Mail

Below, a small but representative sampling of disturbing emails recently received by FFRF from “loving” Christians, usually in response to news coverage of FFRF’s state/church work. Grammar and spelling are uncorrected. Warning: Language and suggestions are commonly X-rated. 

The Lord: please keep your liberal ideas in wisconsin. Texas is a Christian state and we do not appreciate your interfering in our schools expression of love and faith in our Creator. Just remember JESUS IS LORD!! — Steve Rousseau 

 

Texas cheerleader: Stay out of Texas. We dont need your non beleiving ways here. Dont stand behind the Courts or threatining lawsuits. Come here and meet us face to face. — Richard Zelenuk, Arlington 

 

Football Banners: Suck it up and hang it out your atheist ass. — Arthur Windell, Caldwell 

 

YOU ARE DUMB GAY IDIOTS SENT TO RUIN AMERICA: There are people who understand the truly American anti-gay dream. We want to live in a world with “In God We Trust” on the currency. Think of all of the people who died to preserve Christianity from terrorists. — Tiger Gibbons 

 

Marbury, AL High School: You need to stay out of our business. This is Alabama, and we do as we please. — John Hazel 

 

Tennessee: You need to leave Tennessee alone. Keep your views if you like... Just don’t bother us. I realize that people have rights... We have moving trucks here if people don’t like it here.

 

religion: YOU PEOPLE ARE FULL OF SHIT. IF SOMEONE DOESN’T LIKE THE SIGNS THEY CAN DO 1 OF 2 THINGS: IGNORE THE SIGN OR 2 MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT AND SOMEONE IS GOING TO WHOOP YOUR SORRY ASSES. — Daniel Berney 

 

RELIGION: yOU AND YOUR TEACHINGS ARE WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY NOW. tEACHING CHILDREN THERE IS NO GOD LEADS THEM TO BELIEVE THEY CAN DO WHAT EVER THEY PLEASE AND THEIR IS NO RESPECT FOR ANYTHING. wHEN THE TIME COMES,AND IT WILL IT WILL BE TO LATE TO ADMIT HOW VERY WRONG AND EVIL YOU WERE AND ARE! pLEASE DO NOT CONTACT ME AS THERE IS NOTHING I WANT OR NEDD TO HEAR FROM THE LIKES OF YOU. — Nancy Grant 

 

Tennessee: hope you needle ducks enjoy hell stay out of Tennessee stop by Caryville and see me idiots you speak with a forked tongue. — Dave Johnson

how much I dont like freedom from religion: This country, built and fought for by my forfathers has turned into a scary place to live because people like you are to worried about treating people fairly, who dont deserve to be treated fairly — Jeremy Miller, Woodstock 

 

Suggestion: All you exist for is to undermine the moral fabric of this nation as it was historically founded. Since you all are so unhappy with that why not move ?
Suggestions: Try: Iran, N.Korea, Russia, China, Cuba, spread your poison there you will be more than welcome since you share the same ideology. I picked the other selection below for the CPUSA! — Doc H. 

 

Texas Cheerleaders: With the recent injunction that was granted to the Cheerleaders it looks like God is tell you to “ shove your organization right up your ass “ don’t you agree! — Mike Hunt 

 

 

Bible verses at Alabama football games: Those of us down here take our religion seriously and if we choose to carry signs with Bible verses at football games, well it’s really none of your business. Perhaps you should read your Bible more often. — Pam Cory 

 

schools: Look you need to leave marbury high school alone y’all just want to mess with somebody and you need to leave the alone . They are doing nothing wrong they are not hurting no one so just go crawl under a rock and leave them .dont come down her messing with us or watch what happens !!! watch what god can he can make anything happen so leave us alone don’t miss with us or will mess with you — Robert Harmon, Prattville 

 

TENNESSEE/GEORGIA: Tell me do you have any problem spending he U.S. money that has IN GOD WE TRUST printed on the face, I suspect not, you hipocrit. Say up North and leave us alone. I hope you burn in Hell. — Pat Guffey, Soddy Daisy 

 

schools and prayers: just fuck off. if you dont want to hear it. just stand and shut the fuck up. — “Who cares”

 

Alabama: you guys are a bunch of fuken cocksucker fuk you all ahhahahahah we need freedom from you fagotts yoru the reson the whole county going to hell you think it funny 0-o open your eyes look what you made no god it all hell enjoy its allover — Don Hively

 

Football prayer at games: Hi I’m a conserned student at a school that no Longer has prayer before football games.... — Josh 

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Bringing freethought to Rotary Club

jessicawalkerName: Jessica Walker.

Where I live: Tyrone, Ga., about 20 miles south of Atlanta.

Where and when I was born: Connecticut in 1967 but grew up in New Jersey. 

Family: Husband, Robin; son, Jack, 11; and daughter, Maisie, 8.

Education: B.S. in accounting from Centenary College, New Jersey, and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Occupation: Director of project management for Caliber Services, a software consulting firm. I started my career as an accountant and moved to consulting on enterprise resource planning in the early 1990s. I took time off from the corporate world to stay home with my young children and supported my husband’s new business venture in 2003 by taking care of the back-office and accounting duties.

Now that the children are in school, I’ve come back into the work-for-pay world and have taken over more responsibility in the family business and moved from bookkeeper duties to project management.

How I got where I am today: I’ve always wanted to know the reasons behind things and found that evidence and data were much more satisfying than fairy tales. This quality drove my passion for books, learning, and not being afraid to make someone a little uncomfortable by asking them a tough question about their position on a given subject.

I have a deep interest in knowing that people are being treated fairly in life and came to understand early on that a secular worldview is the one that is the most inclusive and fairest to the most people.

Where I’m headed: I’m married to a wonderful man and we have two amazing children. We don’t try to influence our children on matters of conscience. We simply ask what their thoughts are on a particular subject, where the evidence is leading them, and suggest when more research may be warranted. In addition to raising two little skeptics, I’m finding great joy in athletics lately, especially the character-building experience that is dragon boating.

Person in history I admire: Maria Montessori. She “followed the child” to create an education system that modern research (see Dr. Steve Hughes) is now proving most accurately mirrors a child’s brain development. She cared deeply about respect for the child as an individual, the child’s place in the greater community and how to peacefully interact with others.

Montessori, one of the first female physicians in Italy, was a devout Catholic, a fact that I tend to think is an accident of geography and the time when she was born. Her discoveries about child development, sensitive periods and emphasizing learning with concrete materials through our senses rather than jumping directly to abstract concepts are strong evidence of her scientific mindset. The many children I have known (including my own) who are educated within the Montessori Method tend to be independent critical thinkers, self-assured, mature for their ages, early readers, self-motivated, respectful of others and creative, joyful people.

A quotation I like: “It is best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain.” (Mark Twain, 1835-1910)

These are a few of my favorite things:  My family and friends, playing tennis and the piano (not simultaneously), dragon boat racing, Rotary Club service projects, the Fayette Freethought Society, traveling to other countries, reading anything I can get my hands on, NPR and physical fitness.

These are not: People who equate religion with morality (I tend to think it’s more of an inverse relationship), hypocrisy, bad line calls in tennis, intercessory prayer, insistence on respect for religion and/or faith, commercial television, smelly cheese.  

My doubts about religion started: I don’t come from a religious family, although both my grandmothers were Catholic. We didn’t attend services and celebrated holidays in a cultural rather than a religious manner. For most of my life, I was rather apathetic about religion, then moved five years ago to Georgia, where my freedom from religion is assaulted on a daily basis.

I’ve become more and more motivated to actively work against this unwanted intrusion in my life. Living in the bible belt, I now understand more than ever how much religion and a faith-based mindset is a dangerous force for paternalism, ignorance, arrogance and misogyny.  

Why I’m a freethinker: I’m a freethinker because I think there is so much self-righteous “certainty” in the public marketplace of ideas that I see eventually getting shot down after new evidence on a subject comes to light. Being a freethinker shows a level of humility with regard to the future and a respect for humanity’s ability to continually make new discoveries about our natural world. 

Ways I promote freethought: I joined groups like FFRF, the Fayette Freethought Society and the Atlanta Freethought Society to find like-minded people. My children and I have talks about superstition, famous scientists, evolution, relationships, ethics, the FFRF quote of the day, the future of our planet, etc., on our morning drives to school.

I leave my back issues of Freethought Today in local coffee shops. As a peaceful protest, I refuse to stand up with all the other people during opening prayers at Rotary Club meetings. Yes, I’m the only one sitting, and yes, it’s been noticed and commented on. [See sidebar story.]

 

Jessica’s excellent letter

 

Jessica Walker writes: Being a member of FFRF and being exposed to your writings and arguments helped me in crafting the following email to my Rotary Club. I am answering a question from a fellow member as to why I do not stand up during the club’s prayer/pledge.

Thank you very much to each of you for your leadership and bravery in the face of desperate odds.

 

Hi Patti,

Thank you for your polite curiosity. This is something that I thought about long and hard. I even strongly considered not joining and on many occasions considered leaving the PTC Club [Peachtree City] because of its current prayer and pledge practice.

The short answer to your question about my nonparticipation in prayer and pledge is because I’m a Rotarian, a member of a supposedly (if we are to believe the statements on the Rotary International website) nonsectarian and nonpolitical organization that seeks to be inclusive of all peoples in the world. I sincerely think that the Rotarian ideals of “Service Above Self” and the Four-Way Test are superior to the sectarianism and nationalism that any club indulges in when it comes to improving human relations and uplifting others less fortunate than ourselves.

I find it very sad that we very rarely recite the Four-Way Test or our excellent motto “Service Above Self” at our meetings. For that, I would gladly and proudly stand up from my seat. The prayer/pledge only serves as a distraction from Rotary’s excellent ideals. The motto and the Four-Way Test are strong enough, powerful enough, and meaningful enough to stand on their own merits.

My quiet refusal to participate in the prayer/pledge illustrates my choice to adhere to these higher values of Rotary. I sit, rather than stand up, go with the flow and be coerced against my conscience into tacit acceptance of divisive, unnecessary and ultimately ineffective appeals to the supernatural along with nationalism coupled with the festering vestiges of McCarthyism that we see embodied in the post-1954 version of the pledge. We are better than this. We just need the courage to buck powerful forces and choose the higher road.

As Rotarians, we have the obligation to be inclusive of all people, and the only peaceful and respectful way that I have seen this to have ever been achieved in history is to keep things as secular and nonterritorial as possible, just like we are shown on Rotary International’s own website. Until we, as members of the PTC Rotary, can be brave enough to say “No more” to our current sectarian and nationalistic practices and choose to run our meetings in the most inclusive and Rotary-focused way possible, there will always be a member, a visiting member, a guest, or a potential member at our meetings who feels like an outsider — unwelcome, creeped out, unwilling to join us. 

Take a moment to think of all the folks we had to lunch a couple of weeks ago on International Day. How many different religions (or no religions) were in that room? How many different countries were folks citizens of? I was intensely embarrassed for the club when the Christian prayers and pledges to a single nation were once again trotted out and forced on all these different people.

How many of those decision-makers from the various PTC international companies do you think would want to join a club that behaves in such an exclusionary, arrogant, self-righteous manner? I wonder how many of those international presidents and CEOs would now be asking to become members of our club if they had been presented solely with the Rotary motto and the Four-Way Test instead? Those are ideals that everyone can get behind and accept into their lives without violating their freedom of conscience.

I have chosen to remain a member of the club because I truly think that the Rotary ideals are worth striving for. I truly think it is also worth my incurring a bit of curiosity and/or hostility from the other members, like yourself, because I want to help people see that the Rotary ideals are more important, inclusive and useful to humanity than prayers and pledges could ever be. 

If any of my ideas have resonated with you, I invite you join me in my peaceful protest of this embarrassing, coercive and exclusionary part of our meetings. 

Warmest regards,

Jessica S. Walker

Director PMO Office, Caliber Services, LLC

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