Calling All Non-believers . . . Come Out of the Closet!
KATHERINE PAIGE graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2010 with a B.A. in History, Political Science, and French. She attended law school at the College of William & Mary where she received her Juris Doctor in 2014. Katherine became FFRF’s first Legal Fellow in September 2014, specializing in faith-based government funding.
Name: Charles D. Hoornstra.
Where I live: Madison, Wis.
Where I was born: Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Family: My wife and two daughters — one with two children, a girl age 13 and a boy age 11.
Why I volunteer for FFRF: Like Madison and Jefferson, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. For me, as a nonbeliever, FFRF is a home for like-minded people who insist on intellectually honest thinking.
What I do as a volunteer: So far, I have graded student essays.
What I like best about it: I am very impressed with the quality of the young people. They are resolute in their independent reasoning. They don’t let myths or false assumptions get in the way. Plus, many of them are outstanding writers with compelling personal stories to tell.
Something funny that’s happened at work: Being retired, I have no current work story to tell. But I must confess the other day I stupidly emailed my water bill payment to Madison, Ala., instead of to Madison, Wis.
Education: Madison West High School, 1959; B.A. and M.A. in philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1963, 1965; J.D., UW-Madison Law School, 1967.
My day job is/was/will eventually be: I am a retired Wisconsin assistant attorney general. I worked in a variety of areas in my 36 years, including positions in state government and at the University of Wisconsin. I taught business law courses at UW-Platteville and UW-Madison. For many years I served the Law School in an ad hoc capacity, teaching the practicum courses. I still help out with the moot court programs.
Education: Undergraduate, graduate and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
These three words sum me up: According to my grandchildren, I am awesome, funny and fair. But of course, they are the least objective people in the world on that question.
My freethought heroes are: David Hume, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell.
Things I like: Sports, history and being a grandfather.
Things I smite: Confirmation bias (starting with a desired conclusion, rejecting conflicting facts and cherry-picking supportive facts).
Why did I closet my atheism so long? Because I did not want to tarnish my father’s community legacy. He was an effective and popular local pastor.
Name: Noah Bunnell.
Where and when I was born: New London, N.H., March 16, 1994.
Family: Parents, Deborah Schachter (51) and Thomas Bunnell (58); sister Eliza (18).
Education: Rising junior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
My religious upbringing was: Jewish. I went to a Reform synagogue, attended Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah, etc., although my Jewish mother and Christian father were always careful to let me come to my own conclusions.
How I came to work as an FFRF intern: The roots of my skepticism reach back to the d’var Torah (lesson of the Torah) which I wrote and then delivered at my bar mitzvah at age 13. Surprisingly well-received given its heretical slant, my talk centered on questioning why a benevolent god would smite Aaron’s sons, concluding that even religious doctrine is only meant to offer guiding principles rather than “The Word,” and even then, it often has some pretty bad advice.
Thereafter, I clung to Judaism for its cultural comforts, but not for its answers to the metaphysical questions of the universe and the transcendent. For those, I looked to science and increasingly, to literature and poetry. Since I’d developed into an atheist, FFRF seemed like the place to be.
What I do here: I compile bios of famous freethinkers for the Freethought of the Day portion of our website and write summaries of FFRF’s legal victories. I help out wherever needed.
What I like best about it: It’s great to work for an organization helping to effect important change and to write about those changes actually taking effect.
Something funny that’s happened at work: All too often, people call to spew odious and empirically dubious claptrap (did God send religious people to make life a living hell for nonbelievers?). I love that my desk is situated so that I can hear the creative responses the people answering the phones come up with in response to these crank calls: Lisa’s “Well, I hope you pray for me!” Katie’s recent go-to — shouting, “USA USA USA!” Or one that’s been suggested, but hasn’t been implemented yet: “Thank you for calling the Christian-Atheist Dating Hotline! What type of atheist are you interested in today?” Cracks me up.
My academic interests are: English literature, religion, politics and German.
My heroes are: Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin.
These three words sum me up: Introspective, curious, outdoorsy.
Things I like: Postmodern fiction, running, social justice, Woody Allen movies, corny puns.
Things I smite: Men’s rights activists, passive aggression, the Religious Right, bigotry.
My loftiest goal: Peace.
With the emergence of the Islamic State (aka ISIS), crank mailers have a new suggested location for us to move to, along with Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and France. A small sample of the many hundreds of emails FFRF received recently, printed as received.
To FFRF Ideas: Ïve met allot of pricks in my day but this group is a fucking cactus. May god bless you. — Steven Haley
first amendment: I hope all your members’ nipples fall off and grow back on their foreheads and they all start lactating at the same time. That’s also part of that first amendment thing. Freedom of speech and of religion doesn’t seem to be on your fascist radar. I’m sure you guys and Hitler would have gotten along fine. I mean you guys look at people that believe in God the same way he did the Jewish population. — Russ Walker, Colorado Springs
Your Children: All of your children need a bullet right between their eyes. — Elmo Sippy, Ellijay, Ga. [Editor’s note: This was reported to police.]
The Scumbag Mooslims in Minnesota: You prevent chaplains in FLA from saying a prayer before games, but you don’t say a word when the goat fuckers want to build a Mosque, aka recruiting ground, in Minnesota? You just want to eviscerate Christians, you GOD less cocksuckers. FUCK OFF AND DIE. — Connecticut
We have enough babies in America: I think you are right up there with ISIS. Virtually the same thing only based in America. We dont gripe about you driving your foreign cars do we as Christians? No, because we dont care. We’ll look the other way when yoi drive by in your Toyota. YOU ARE A BUNCH OF SELF ABSORBED WORTHLESS SELFISH CHILDREN THAT PROBABLY GOT BEAT UP ALL THE TIME IN SCHOOL. SO PUT YOUR CRAYONS AWAY AND YOUR COLORED PAPER AND PENCILS AND LOOK AT THE REAL THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY. — Jameson Mayer, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Crosses: How do I go about removing your foundation from the United States? I am a war veteran and your foundation offends me. — James Kimble
P.S. Hey did you know there is a cross on my computer keyboard.
religion: are,t there better things to worry about like bulling in schools drugs weapons getting a education that,s what really should matter. — teresa low, connersville, indiana
Religion: You guys are a bunch of dumbass fucktards. How can you be offended by something you don’t believe in? Assholes! — Mr. Jesus, Heaven, Illinois
Plaques at schools: As a non-practicing Jew myself I just want to say that you are a bunch of idiots. You have so little faith in your faithlessness that you feel intimidated by crosses and plaques on public lands. This country was built on a Judeo-Christian ideal. I just wish that our idiot judges would wake up and throw your lawsuits, and you, out on your butts. — Stephen Lubin, New York
Freedom of religion: For an orginazation that doesn’t want religon sure does act like it is carrying on a crusade of religous porportion. I should sue you on behalf of tax payers for the continued law suites that fail. I am also contacting congress and senate to enact a law that if a law suite is brough forward and is considered frivilous that who ever brought the law suite should be charged any and all cost associated with the law suite and a fine of $250. — Troy Cummings, Virginia
Suggestion: Madison, Wi., one of the known marxist cities in the USA! It is a sad thing to witness the USA sinking into an ABYSS of touchy-feely diversity, ultaliberalism, political correctness, socialism, and Saul Alinsky Marxism. — Doc H
Attacking Christiananity: You Bastards, I hope God has mercy on your souls. — Robert Guccione
Your thought process: Your belief in nothing is still a belief. I find your organization pushing your agenda is upsetting to me and I do not like it. I will now be a minority voice trying to desolve your organization. — Leo Bauer
Seminole High football team: I am a supporter of the constitution. And I agree that there should be no establishment by government. But to build bridges, you have to have humidity, and be able to say, “I was wrong”. — Courtney Campbell
Thoughts on freedom from all religion: What about the muslim that prays out in public, or in state parks. What about the Jews who wear a yamaka? Is it that you only attack Christianity because you think that Christians are meek? If that’s what you think then clearly you need to brush up on your history. — Joe Craig, Branson, Mo.
Quit Your Sniveling: I would bet that the overwhelming majority of your members are new to being atheists. I’m sure they were unaware of what it even meant until they heard about it, while standing in line waiting to vote for Obama. They couldn’t wait to get home and try it for themselves. So, they sent you $5.00 and left for work the next day wearing a T-shirt proclaiming themselves an atheist. The problem with these people, is that in 12 months when all their fake facebook friends start saying Christianity is the new trend, they will rush out of their homes to beat the door down at their local church to donate $5.00 and get their “I’m a Christian” T-shirt. At which point your “foundation” will crumble and you’ll have to go find a real job. — James Briskey, San Antonio
satan’s immisary’s: I see you morons are conspiring against church’s with the gestapo gov’t agency? will hell be hot enough for you kretins? I pity your soul’s on judgment day! — aaarocket37
Your So Called Victories: What you call significant legal victories are nothing but effective blackmail techniques. Your fear mongering and threats in my mind seem very similar to those of Nazi Germany. All employees of my company pray before each and every day - that will not end. If an employee doesn’t like it - they know where the door is. — Michael Moran
ass holes: The pendulum will swing back the other way ass holes and i hope it will take you`r heads off when it dose. Try to tell me what i can and can not do and see how long you breath! — Carl Thurston, Texas
IRS Lawsuit: You want the IRS one or the most corrupt govt. ageencies to spy on churches. I am 68 years old and the older I get the more I fear for My Grand Children. Shame on you. The American is getting Pissed WATCH OUT. — Thomas Kimble, West Palm Beach., Fla.
It is freedom OF religion: Our assigned technicians have breached your email accounts. Our investigators have identified your family members. Our firm is a GSA contractor of the US Federal Government (GSA 6HNDN4) and have published the identities of your recorded conditions and the identities of your immediate family members, including all relevant personal data including addresses, social security numbers, and related family members above the age of 13. Good luck with that! — Jonathan Hawfield, Houston
Fallon received $400 from FFRF for her essay.
By Fallon Rowe
I grew up without religion. In Idaho schools, this made me fairly unique, and I struggled throughout my education, walking on eggshells around my many Mormon friends.
In elementary school, a friend asked me if I believed in “God.” After a few moments of thought, I replied negatively, explaining the lack of importance of such a word in my life. That friend was quickly transformed into an enemy, presumably because her parents had indoctrinated her to be unfriendly with those who lack religion. I didn’t let it bother me, but I’ll never forget that encounter.
As I transitioned into high school and attained a higher level of thinking, I began to analyze my own beliefs. I see how religion can corrupt and brainwash people, especially children who are so impressionable. I see smart, caring students turn ugly and rude when they find out I’m “that atheist girl.”
I have to be extra confident of my nonbelief in order to hold my own against the zealots I face in my school and community every day. Sometimes I wonder if my peers would discriminate against me less if I were a racist rather than an atheist. It scares me that they think I’m evil or heartless simply because I disagree with religion. I am lucky to have found a few accepting and freethinking friends in high school, but we are among the minority.
At Girl Scout camp when I was younger, I was the only one who absolutely refused to pray before every meal. Although the organization is not religiously affiliated, the counselors tried to force us to pray. In school, I continue to leave out “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I fight for the separation of church and state at every opportunity.
In my advanced placement government class, a peer claimed there would be no peace iuntil Jesus walked the Earth again. No one protests these outbursts besides me, and I always get many negative glares for speaking up for secularism. In AP literature, I steadfastly voice my opinions on nonreligion and the importance of the wall of separation. I stand alone in these classrooms as the lone representative of freethought.
Recently in my community, a student’s religious grandparent challenged a book in my school, and it resulted in the removal of the book from the curriculum at every school in the district. Along with over 300 of my peers, I signed a petition to keep the book in the curriculum, but our efforts were in vain.
Despite this, hundreds of copies were distributed for free in my community because of a fundraiser, and it awakened people to the evils of censorship. One of the main reasons the book was challenged was because it was called “anti-Christian.” This upset me since my school is public, and religion should have no influence on my education. It intrigues me that some Christians are blatantly against the book, and some have no problem with it and have even rallied behind the anti-censorship efforts.
This helps me see that Christians can’t be grouped together entirely as being completely closed-minded or unresponsive to change, just like atheists shouldn’t collectively be viewed as radical or dangerous.
I care deeply about separation of church and state, especially in schools, because I don’t want other students to have to face similar challenges. I do not need religion or a deity to be a good person. I do not need a holy book to outline my morals, or a priest to tell me women are inferior and ignorance is acceptable. I do not need childish tales from long ago to guide me through life and give me hope.
I need people — good, caring, intelligent people — who act from the heart of humanity and the brain of science. I need logic and freethought to help me escape from the chains of silent atheism and solve the problems we face as human beings.
Fallon Rowe, 17, Meridian, Idaho, will be attending Utah State University to major in environmental geoscience and minor in journalism. Her interests include rock climbing, traveling, mountaineering and writing. She’s a member of FFRF and the Secular Student Alliance.
Kali received a $500 scholarship from FFRF.
By Kali Richardson
“I took the [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost
Do you remember the first time you took the less-traveled road? You started asking questions that didn’t have answers, around age 8 for Catholic kids. “How do we know God is real?”
Wednesday night youth groups suddenly turned dark, because an inquisitive, skeptical child is not welcome around adults who have devoted their lives to delusion. Do you remember when your mom had to write you a note just so you could check out Harry Potter from the elementary library? Even as a 6-year-old, you thought that was ridiculous.
Perhaps it was just the Catholics who didn’t have answers; somewhere inside of you a hope grew that maybe you were wrong, and maybe there was an omnipotent Father out there to save you from the monsters under your bed.
So off you went at age 11 to a multitude of Baptist summer camps that were thrilled to have saved a child from what they saw as a competing religion. Your mother was not pleased. But hey, this is Arkansas. This is Baptist country. (You thought, if it were about saving your soul, wouldn’t she be OK with belonging to any religion?)
A year later you were in sixth grade, going through that emo phase that all of your generation participated in at one point or another, and everything changed. You came out in more than one way, and didn’t know which was worse in that small town — to be gay, or to be an atheist?
At that point the road wasn’t just less traveled by; it had thorns and chiggers and every once in a while, snakes. You didn’t believe in the small town or its religion and it didn’t believe in you.
“It’s just a phase,” they said.
But it wasn’t just a phase, and in sophomore year you stopped standing up for the pledge. The verbal feedback was amazing. “Do you hate the people who died for our country?” When the words “under God” were discovered to be the cause, it got worse. “Do you hate religion? Are you an atheist?”
Some of your classmates in sophomore biology decided to shout the pledge as if to prove the subtle point that you cannot escape. Your teacher started your unit on evolution with the words, “I know most of us don’t believe we came from monkeys, but the school requires me to teach this, so . . .”
Do you remember weighing the pros and cons of challenging that ignorant statement in your head? Social scorn for a few days, or making what is right known? You were tired of being hated, but corrected the teacher regardless.
Do you remember when someone challenged the Friday night pre-football “prayer over the loudspeaker” tradition? There had already been a Supreme Court ruling, but you didn’t know that. Your school, knowing full well how illegal their activities were, stopped the prayers. The entire school thought it was ridiculous and unfair, but you were secretly happy to not have to pretend to pray.
You pointed out a few times that it was, technically, state-funded religion, but no one else viewed it as that. Everyone seemed to say, “It’s a tradition. It’s our life. Who are you to try to change that?”
You have taken the road less traveled, and it has made all the difference. It gave you the fuel to move to another state your senior year. Being isolated all those years for being an atheist makes leaving pretty easy, doesn’t it? It piqued your interest in stem cells, which led to your pursuit of a science major.
And while you will always cringe when someone invites you to a youth group, you’ll be more than thankful that it’s happening in a different sphere of society than your school. Don’t give up, and always be a skeptic. It’s gotten you to where you are.
Kali writes: “I am 18. My hometown is Batesville, Ark., but I moved after my life was turned upside down during junior year. My parents divorced, I developed a major blood clot while attending the Naval Academy Summer Seminar 2013 and my mother remarried. I now live with her in Tucson, Ariz. I will be attending the University of Arizona in the fall and plan to major in biology with an emphasis in biomedical sciences.”
Harrison received a $750 scholarship from FFRF.
By Harrison Horwitz
This is the story of how I became a devoted atheist, an impassioned heretic and an optimistic realist.
My first encounter with religion came in early childhood. I was born to a single mother of Jewish heritage who was very proud of her faith and traditions. She was murdered when I was 5.
As a young boy, I was told that God worked for the greater good of humankind. In my innocence and naiveté, I could not conceive why God would take everything I had from me and leave me with absolutely nothing. It was then that I first had the notion that there is no higher power driving humanity toward good. Rather, we are truly left to our own devices.
I looked into the heart of religion and witnessed its dark, repressive side. Shortly after my mother’s death, I was adopted by my great uncle and moved to a rural, impoverished and devoutly religious town in central California. Caliente was a town of Republicans, guns and the good Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: the holy trinity.
What Caliente residents lacked in education, they made up for in their unchallenged faith in God and Jesus. Their clergy encouraged them to loathe homosexuals, look down on blacks and immigrants and treat women like personal property.
While my adoptive parents did not force religion on me, they certainly believed in a divine being. All great things that occurred were because “He made it so.” As I became more aware of the small-minded mentality of Caliente, I pieced together parts of the puzzle. I witnessed sleazy politicians using fear-based religious platforms to win elections, while ignorant and misguided people followed them as though they were The Second Coming.
When I moved back to Los Angeles, I saw the movie “Jesus Camp” in my sociology class. Most of the students were shocked to see religion being shoved down the throats of the young and impressionable, but I had already been through my own version of “Jesus Camp.”
My high school years put everything I encountered in my early life into perspective. In pursuit of a better education with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, I pegged religion for what it is: a tool for oppression that has controlled people for thousands of years.
Leaders who have the right mix of charisma, power and ego use religion to manipulate most of the population. That may sound harsh, but the suppression of hard truths has allowed the outdated institution of religion to run rampant.
I have questioned organized religion since middle school. Then, my resistance only went so far as to inquire, “How do you know there is a God?” or “How could that which goes against proven science be right?”
Even when spoken from a sixth-grader’s mouth, these are dangerous questions for religion. Since then, my knowledge and understanding of religion’s grasp on society has grown exponentially. Now, I actively debate the topic in and out of the classroom. Fact-based science and creationism are incongruent. Religion has no place in the educational system.
My intention is not to sound contentious or judgmental. My beef is not with the children of “Jesus Camp” who were born into religion. My issue is with the institution of religion, the camp and its leaders, that prey on ignorant and vulnerable people.
Education should be based on rational thought and supported by facts, not on fables and bedtime stories. I dream of a world in which people want to discover answers, not one in which people pretend to already have them.
Harrison was born Nov. 19, 1996, in Los Angeles. After seven years he moved to Caliente for four years and then back to L.A. He’s attending the University of California-Berkeley to major in biology and minor in political science.
Philip received $1,000 from FFRF for his winning essay.
By Philip Kaltman
Since I was a small child, religion was a large part of my life. I attended Sunday school and Hebrew school regularly. I went to Friday night services often, and I trusted that God had a plan and was everywhere.
I have lived in the bible belt my entire life, surrounded by both Judaism and Christianity, but natural science also played a large role in my childhood. Instead of playing baseball, I stood in the outfield watching insects in the grass. Before I could read, I could tell you which dinosaur a skull or tailbone belonged to. I watched “Land Before Time” cartoons and paleontology documentaries. Dinosaurs were my life.
So when my Sunday school teacher explained that Noah put two of every animal on his ark so they would survive, my 7-year-old brain was confused. Where were the dinosaurs? Why weren’t they on the ark? Obviously, they existed once, or we wouldn’t have their bones.
I got the classic answer, “Because Noah didn’t take them.” Who was this Noah, and why did he decide to deprive me of dinosaurs?
Later, a documentary showed me that dinosaurs’ extinction was due to a massive meteor impact, an answer that made sense. It wasn’t some old man’s capricious decision, it was a natural occurrence.
That was my first seed of doubt. My synagogue was no longer infallible. It was contradicted by smart scientists.
When I was stung by a bee several years later, it hurt horribly. My parents said the bee was trying to protect itself. So I asked, “Why did it need to protect itself? Didn’t God control everything? Wouldn’t he protect the bee and me equally?”
Then I learned about the theory of evolution, which led me to understand why animals that could hurt us existed, and to see that perhaps God didn’t control the bee and wouldn’t protect it and me. This was my first real crisis of faith. Did God exist at all?
The more I learned, the more I doubted, until in 10th grade, I declared in front of my entire synagogue that I did not believe in God. There were gasps, stares and weird looks, but I persevered. After the service, astoundingly, many people congratulated me on my speech and my willingness to share my lack of belief.
I learned that defending my freethought was not something to be nervous about, but instead could be accepted as a good thing. So I tried it more, this time at school.
Despite how secular we want our public schools to be, religion in many places permeates almost every aspect of them. I had to awkwardly explain to my football coach that I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. I repeatedly turned down the friend who invited me to his Fellowship of Christian Athletes prayer sessions.
To overcome this, I helped found my school’s first freethinker’s club, after jumping through myriad hoops and finding ways around constantly being told we couldn’t. We provided a safe haven for others who challenged the faith that is so deeply ingrained in our culture.
Recently, I attended a planning meeting for my Cobb County School District, where a woman demanded that creationist alternatives to evolution be taught in science classrooms. (Cobb County in Georgia became notorious about 10 years ago for putting labels on science textbooks that said “Evolution is a theory, not a fact.”)
I was quick to jump in and oppose her. I explained that I had interned in an evolutionary biology lab at Emory University and had seen evolution happen in front of my eyes.
The meeting’s leaders gave every attendee a sticker to put next to the viewpoint that they supported. I felt extremely proud as I counted line after line of stickers next to my suggestion that only evolution should be taught in schools, versus the single sticker next to my opponent’s.
Philip Kaltman, 17, Marietta, Ga., will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology and major in biology. He interned in an Emory University microbiology lab, researching evolutionary and genetic biology. He was an officer of the Science Honor Society and an officer of the Freethinker’s club at his magnet STEM high school.