Cliff Richards Student Activist Award: Glad to be called a heathen pig by Douglas J. Ciampi Jr.

By Douglas J. Ciampi Jr.

The last time I voluntarily attended a church service was at the age of 5, and by seventh grade I was openly identifying as an atheist. Given that I grew up in a Catholic area of rural Massachusetts, my beliefs were rarely brought up in public. When high school came around and discussions grew, more people began to learn of my beliefs, but fewer students seemed to be bothered by the fact that I was “good without God.” But this isn’t a story of the upcoming generation, which will be more accepting and freethinking than any hitherto; it’s a story of how I came to realize and love my true identity: the heathen pig.

I was a tinkerer and a builder when I was young, spending countless hours disassembling everything from the kitchen sink to my baby monitor to figure out how it all worked. While I did not have a complete understanding of how everything functioned, I did know that when I carefully smashed my baby monitor and began dissecting it, there was no “man behind the curtain” relaying what he heard to my parents. There were components that played some part in making this contraption work. I was becoming a critical thinker, and doubting everything from Santa to God. Come biology class, I had a decent understanding of the “how” part of humans, and realized there was no reason for God(s) to exist. This marked the start of my secular journey. It would take until my junior year of high school for me to examine the topic more heavily and more critically. I came to the conclusion that when society wasn’t strong enough to create and enforce its own laws, religion was created in order to scare individuals into being “good” people.

But this goal of creating “good” people failed quite miserably. Putting aside the dozens of genocides and millions of deaths that religion has spawned, religion has stamped out many cookie-cutter Christians (although there are some from every faith), that view those of a different faith as lesser people, or even lesser than people. I learned this the hard way when I dared to challenge four churches and the near-incestual relationship they had with my school district. Part of my public high school’s official graduation ceremony was a “religious event” held in one of four churches each year, where the priest would serve as master of ceremonies. Not a single person in the 50 years that this ceremony took place ever objected to it, until my senior year rolled around.

I asked nicely for the school not to hold it that year, and was told I didn’t have the right to ask. I wrote the school asking them not to hold the ceremony, and met with the principal so he could hand my complaint back to me and walk out of the room. Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote the school informing them of the legality of such a service, which led to a meeting with the principal where he called my mother and tried to have her convince me to drop the complaint. But I didn’t drop it: I fought. I went before councils and committees at every level and, after nearly six months, succeeded in having the event removed.

But in the eyes of the religious community, I became a public enemy. I was the one who “killed the Baccalaureate.” The story ran front page of all the local newspapers, and was the “Principal’s News” for March. All parents were emailed about it, and I began to receive attention, a lot of it. All throughout the process I received negative and scathing remarks from dozens of adults, including a two-minute spiel about me by the chairman of the school committee. I was inundated by these comments, but one stood out high above all the rest. Someone took the time out of their life to write a newspaper and proclaim to the world that I was nothing but a “heathen pig.”

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Douglas J. Ciampi Jr., 18, resides in Westminster, Mass., and graduated from Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham, Mass. in June 2015. He is attending American University in Washington, D.C., where he is pursuing a degree in history. His interests include politics, numismatics and hiking. He is a 2014 alumni of Boys State, a 2015 Comcast Leader and Achiever, an AP Scholar, and a 2015 Stanley Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction recipient. His awards also include a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a Good Citizenship Citation from the American Legion, and the 2015 Americans United National Youth Award. He is currently a member of the Secular Student Alliance, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Honor Society, and the American Numismatic Association. FFRF’s Cliff Richards Student Activist Award is 1,000.

Freedom From Religion Foundation