North Carolina siblings win FFRF student activist awards

282 Kalei and BenFFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor introduced Kalei and Ben Wilson at the Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt conference in Raleigh, N.C., on May 2:

Kalei is one of our younger student activist awardees, but we’ve actually had honorees as young as 11. Kalei is 15. She and her brother Ben were thwarted in trying to start a freethought club at their high school in a smaller town in North Carolina. Kalei is receiving the memorial that I started in honor of my father, who was the principal volunteer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He died three years ago. It’s called the Paul J. Gaylor Memorial Award of $1,000. He would have been very touched by her plight. 

Ben, who started this challenge at the school, is 17. He’s going to say a few words. He tried to start a secular club during the fall semester, then he moved on to community school. He is the debut recipient of the Cliff Richards Memorial Student Activist Award of $1,000. You’re going to be hearing about this award because one of our members who got ill very abruptly with stage 4 cancer called me up and said he wanted a bequest to go to the perpetuation of our student activist awards.

We have received a $140,000 in his name this spring for these awards. He was very excited about the activism of younger people and freethinkers. He was from Wisconsin, ended up in Washington state, where he made use of the death with dignity law. He would have been very, very impressed with Ben Wilson.


By Ben Wilson


Wow! Well, it started out at my first year at the school, a big bible belt school, bunch of country people, Christians. We wanted to start a club because I knew a couple people who weren’t “out” atheists but were not religious. So I started talking the club up, talked to the Secular Student Alliance, got all the paperwork completed and went into the principal. She actually told me “no” — at first. She said it was because they didn’t want an atheist group in the schools. I came back to her with the law that said if she had Christian groups, she’s going to let me have a secular group. 

She then postponed our meeting for two weeks, I guess hoping I’d forget about it. Postponed it for two weeks — not even researching about what the club was about, which she promised she would do.

I came in again and was like, “Hey, I need to get moving on this.” She goes, “Oh, I haven’t even looked it up.” I was like, “Well, let’s do that now.” And so we looked it up. She reads the definition of atheist from Wikipedia, I think, and goes, “I think this a satanist group.” 

I was — completely confused! “I think you’ve got the wrong definition of atheism. Theists are known as believers, and atheists are nonbelievers.”

So we went on about that. She ended up saying stuff like, “It’s like if you’re gay, you go to Asheville and not stay here.” So confused. 

Then we took it to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They helped us out a lot, but then I ended up getting out of school, going to Haywood Community College, and then Kalei took over. She ended up getting the harsh end of the deal because a lot of kids turned on us. Friends just said we’re not going to be your friends anymore. People destroyed her projects at schools with bibles. 

But, thank y’all. I love being up here, I love you y’all. This is awesome. It’s nice to have a community now. Better than Christians.

Freedom From Religion Foundation