Student Wins Thomas Jefferson Award

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has bestowed its annual $1,000 Thomas Jefferson Freethought Award, designated for an activist student, to Jason Ball, a 22-year-old student at Orange Coast College, Calif.

Ball, a student trustee, proposed banning the Pledge of Allegiance at student government meetings, a motion which passed in early November.

That (‘under God’) part is sort of offensive to me,” Ball told Reuters news service. “I am an atheist and a socialist, and if you know your history, you know that ‘under God’ was inserted during the McCarthy era and was directly designed to destroy my ideology.”

He added: “Loyalty ought to be something the government earns through performance, not through reciting a pledge.”

Writes Jason Ball:

“I intend to pursue a doctorate in political theory and then become a teacher. I have worked in the past for renewable energy legislation, transparency in the pharmaceutical industry, the protection of student financial aid, and GLBT rights.

“Recognizing that colleges are essential to building the skills for citizenry, I organized a slate of reformers to run for office in student government, promising to bring rationality to student government. Our manifesto of student government, which I drafted, states that it is our duty to enhance the skills of civic participation necessary for democracy. It was a focus on rational discourse that allowed us to see that there are more logical reasons to remove the Pledge of Allegiance from our agendas than to include it.

“After the format of our meetings was called into question, I moved to abolish the Pledge of Allegiance from our agendas. My motion was based on the grounds that the pledge is irrelevant to our business, that it was contrary to the principles of independence and rational discourse on which this country was founded, that the pledge is a ritual which makes many people uncomfortable–including atheists such as myself and others who regularly attend the meetings–that student government represents international students to the same degree as those who plan to reside in the United States indefinitely, and that student government has no business validating any person’s perception of a symbol, which carries different meanings for each of us depending on our life experience. In a vote of three to one, our board voted to remove the flag salute from our agendas.

“It is my position that though this pledge is but a mere poem, the coerced recitation of it runs contrary to the development of the skills necessary to keep our country alive. If we are to have civic rituals we must review them thoroughly, we must take them seriously, and we must understand their origins. When a ritual includes language specifically designed to alienate a group of people based on their beliefs, or lack thereof, it is wholly inappropriate for our government to endorse it. If we live in a system that demands vigilance from its citizens for its basic functioning, then we cannot tolerate rituals that instill obedience in that system for no other reason than it is uncomfortable not to participate in that ritual.”

More than 28,000 students attend the community college, located in conservative Orange County, Calif., south of Los Angeles.

The annual Thomas Jefferson Freethought Award is endowed by a generous freethinking West Coast couple. The Foundation also offers the annual Ruth “Dixie” Jokinen Memorial Student Activist Award, endowed by Board Member Richard Mole. Nominations can be submitted at any time of the year, although students are often invited to receive their award in person at annual conventions. Nominations are still being accepted for the 2006 Jokinen Memorial Award. In the past, that award has gone to state/church plaintiffs, ousted Eagle Scout Darrell Lambert and students who have formed freethought clubs despite official censorship.

Freedom From Religion Foundation