Come In — The Water’s Fine (October 2002)

When Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento adopted a highway in 1995, we wondered how much negative attention we would receive. Would we have to fend off the “religious nuts”? Would motorists target us, swerve onto the shoulder to frighten us, throw tomatoes? Seven years later such aberrant thoughts are just that: aberrant. Most drivers zip on by, a few toot their horns, smile, and wave. None gives us a problem.

We have maintained our two-mile stretch of highway longer than any other group in the Sacramento area, and lately we have received unasked-for but welcome attention. A local television news show used our sign as a lead-in when explaining another community work adoption program. A few days later the Travel section of the Sacramento Bee newspaper mentioned our sign in an article about traveling north of Sacramento.

Bee staff writer Will Evans, in his description of the highway, mentioned “the one adopted by Atheists and Other Freethinkers.” It was a joy to see, especially when Highway 99 runs the entire length of the state of California, and our two-mile section is a few miles north of Sacramento. People have evidently taken notice of the sign as well as the clean stretch of highway.

The recent gratuitous use of our name and sign made me think that many times we nonbelievers exaggerate the animosity toward us by the general public.

Also, it may be that Dr. Michael Newdow’s suit regarding the elimination of “under God” in the pledge has helped create a climate in our area in which open communication is increasingly possible. However, I really believe that the general public is more neutral about us than we think.

My husband and I belong to several freethought organizations, among them the Humanists of Hawaii. Shortly after we became members, we noted that every Martin Luther King Day the people of Hawaii hold a large parade in Honolulu. Marchers include members of groups as diverse as union groups, women’s groups, and church groups. We suggested that HOH join. Members were reluctant. They were afraid they’d be attacked verbally or people would throw things at them. Now, the Humanists of Hawaii have participated two years in a row with nothing but positive feedback.

When contemplating being more forthright, I think of a friend of mine. She grew up toeing the Roman Catholic line, believed in an omniscient god through the birth of her ten children, but is now a model of freethinking.

No one who knows her is ever in doubt about her “non” beliefs. She’s an example for the rest of us. I believe that now with government so virulently religious, if we don’t speak out we will live to regret it.
We must let elected officials know that we are vocal and voting.

That doesn’t mean groups and individuals will not encounter difficulties. Dr. Newdow has received nasty calls and threats. Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento gets an occasional hateful message on the voice mail. But for the main part we get no flak.

Lately, I took a personal risk. I live in an age-restricted community where Christianity is a given, where a Jewish Friendship Circle didn’t evolve until the community was a few years old. It is a constant fight to get people to call it a Winter Holiday party instead of Christmas party. This week I put an ad in our monthly newsletter saying a nontheistic group was forming, and those interested should call me. I gave my telephone number. It will be interesting to see how many freethinkers respond. I have already identified ten and certainly there should be others.

My husband and I identified ourselves as humanists almost a quarter of a century ago. At that time we did not know freethought organizations existed. We thought we were alone in the world. Over and over people who discover FFRF, AAI, AHA or any of the other freethought groups say essentially the same thing. So it behooves us to be more upfront–not risking our jobs or well-being, but using common sense in coming out–to friends, to co-workers, to our communities. According to recent statistics, 30 million of us embrace nontheistic views. Let’s make it count.

Freedom From Religion Foundation