College Honorable Mention Excerpts

Below are excerpts of the essays awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2004 college essay competition sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. All awardees received a $100 cash scholarship.

The Spirit of Freethought

By Traci Dasher-Sullivan


I don’t want to force my beliefs concerning religion onto my son any more than my mother wanted to force hers onto me, but I will be imparting a few lessons to him as he grows up. One in particular my mother recently reminded me of. It was something that my grandfather taught her at a young age. He told her to always do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do, not because you feel you have to. This is one of the most important concepts I can instill in my son. I also want to tell him: Think for yourself! Be your own man and hold fast to your beliefs, no matter what the issue is. Most importantly, claim those beliefs as your own only after you have used rational thought to determine that you chose them, not because someone (including me) told you “that is the way it is.” I trust that if I give him the tools of critical thinking and teach him to question all that he sees and hears concerning religion (and life), he will make the right decisions.

As I pass my ideals of freethought down to the next generation of my family, my greatest wish is that my son will at least be respected for his beliefs, even if those around him do not agree with them. The religious tide is changing. Studies have proven that our numbers are growing; generation X (my generation) has the highest numbers of freethinkers among its ranks of any generation before it in America. Will his generation surpass mine? Only time will tell.

Traci Dasher-Sullivan dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and never anticipated going to college. After being out of school for six years, she enrolled in college and has maintained a 3.5+ GPA since. Traci attends Savannah State University, majoring in mass communications with a concentration in print media and minoring in theater. She will graduate next year. Traci is 28, married, and has one son, Jack Sullivan, age 4. The Sullivans live in Savannah, Ga., with their two cats, Camo and Chomper.

Cake or Broccoli?

By Amber Markley


If I said that growing up atheist was a piece of cake, I’d be lying. It was not easy. Cake is sweet and sugar-coated; growing up with religion would be the cake of life. With religion there is the belief that someone is always watching over you, protecting you from harm’s way. If something bad happens, it is all part of a master plan and God works in mysterious ways. When you die, there is this lovely little afterlife or a new life waiting for you. That cake goes down nicely, but sometimes the easiest thing to do is not the best for your body and mind. I would say that growing up atheist was like a piece of broccoli. Many shy away from broccoli because it is not as easy to eat. And let’s face it, broccoli is not sugar-coated like cake. But sometimes cake gives you cavities, and what is true and healthy for a person is not always the easiest thing to swallow. . . .

So the question remains for religious believers and for those like myself: cake or broccoli? Should one choose religion or atheism, sugar-coated fallacies or hard facts? I’ve chosen the latter, embracing atheism as well as the truth, albeit not the seemingly sweet “truth” that the religious eat. It is a shame that many believers view atheism, the broccoli of the spiritual world, negatively. But in all actuality, what group is most averse to broccoli? Children are. Which fits into my analogy quite nicely. Those who gorge themselves on cake (or religion) end up doing themselves harm in the long run. Ignoring the truth or hiding from what is healthy for body (and mind) is, well, childish. Sometimes broccoli can be hard to swallow, but through hardship, one builds character and strength. I would say that broccoli is an acquired taste, one that I have grown to love. Have I “rejected religion?” Yes, but more importantly, I have “accepted atheism,” and grown to love and appreciate its truth. I quite enjoy the taste of broccoli, and now I cannot seem to get enough of it.

Amber is a student at the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in psychology. She describes herself as a lifelong atheist and a “realistic optimist.” Her career goal is to become a marital and family psychologist.

Especially in America

By Dan Elkind


Dan Elkind with girlfriend Chira Cassel

While no secular state is free from the abuses of power, a religious state can be nothing but hegemonic because opinions–especially religious opinions, as they are considered under our Constitution–vary as widely as the persons who hold them. Church and state shall be one. . . . But which church? It seems that wherever religion has been wedded to government, minority religious groups, dissenters, and agnostics have been oppressed, censored, murdered, subjugated. As our present struggles against the public display of the Ten Commandments, institutionalized school prayer, and conservative religious legislation (to name a few) suggest, America has not yet repudiated religion. Nor has America consigned religion finally to the private lives of its individuals.

Today secularism is clearly in need of defenders, and although I have my doubts, I hope my generation will provide them. Especially in America, secularism will have to make a stand.

Dan Elkind was born in Moscow in 1984, but emigrated to the United States with his parents and younger sister in 1991. A dean’s-list student at Columbia University in New York, Dan will be studying anthropology at the London School of Economics this year, where he will cast his first absentee ballot during a presidential election. In his spare time Dan enjoys social reality, literature, and fine dining. He divides his time between New York City and the family farm in New Jersey.

Growing Up a Freethinker

By Tamara A. Krause


I have spent my life surrounded by people who believed God was the answer to everything. He was the reason why they did or did not do well in life,why the people they loved had passed away, and even why their husband beat them! I cannot count how many times I have been told, “It is part of God’s plan” when something unfortunate happens. Throughout time, the uneducated, downtrodden, and weak-willed have used some form of a higher deity to justify or explain events in their lives and the world around them. I have tried to expose myself to several different religions–Roman Catholic, Mormon, Presbyterian, Lutheran, born-again Christian, you name it. I did this because I believe one cannot truly denounce or reject a claim without first exploring its merits. After much research, and lengthy conversations with friends and relatives trying to encourage me to take the “right path,” I have chosen to be a freethinker.

Of course, I find myself in the minority when it comes to believing in God. At work, school and on television you hear religion discussed everyday. I try to be tolerant of others’ beliefs, but it is hard when they shove it in your face all the time. I have never been approached by another atheist trying to convert me, and certainly none has ever come knocking on my door to chat. All I want is for the bible-thumpers to keep their beliefs to themselves when outside of church. I have never met a religious person with an open mind. Most are prejudiced or homophobic. They have little tolerance for those who are outside their faith. They live inside a bubble. Their attitude does not allow them the benefit of learning from other cultures or other explanations for why humans exist. When one is free of religious boundaries, only then can he or she truly experience life and all its possibilities, and be a freethinker.

Tamara attends Florida Community College at Jacksonville. She is working toward an associate in science degree in paralegal studies. Eventually, she hopes to attend law school.

Refusing to Believe

By Ombera Kaye Ivy


It’s hard to shake years of doctrine and religious teaching. . . .

Nobody likes to think they are alone in this world and I believe that’s the driving force that causes people to latch onto anything that brings them comfort, including religion and all its trappings. For me, it’s the trappings that I reject more than anything. I refuse to believe my sweet, beautiful sister is going to hell because she happens to love another woman. I refuse to believe that sex in all its wonder and glory is only for procreation. I refuse to believe that God condones the merciless killing of women and children in his name during times of war. I refuse to believe that the only way an elderly man can commune with a higher spirit is by handing over his retirement money to a televangelist.

I refuse to believe that I can be more patriotic if I include God’s name in my oath to my country. I refuse to believe that I don’t deserve to have any say over my own body and its reproductive functions. I refuse to believe I need the government and the church to monitor my bedroom and what happens there. I refuse to believe there is a God that hates Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, women, homosexuals, people who have sex for joy, and Democrats. I refuse to believe in believing.

Ombera Kaye Ivy is a student at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., pursuing paralegal studies as her major. She writes: “I believe that paralegal studies is the perfect path for me to take, because it will combine my love of law with my passion for research and reading.”

Bewitched World

By Jerrye Broomhall


Imprisonment paradoxically frees one’s mind of most worldly distraction. To be sure, there are plenty of negative stimuli in prison, but most of the bells and whistles of a so-called civilized life are gone. I have no desire to embrace the prison culture and institutionalized lifestyle, so I have had unprecedented time to think and formulate a new worldview. It has not escaped my attention that I am more free than most of the people in the so-called free world because my mind is not shacked by preconceptions and doctrines. I am surprisingly happy just to pursue my academic studies and think critically about the world and my place in it.

People trading an unbiased, critical view of the world for the promise of transcendence in this world or the next shocks me. Most religious educators train adherents to be dense and to accept the status quo. Religious acolytes love to feel that they are the holders of special truth and that they are central players in a cosmic drama. The modern Christian expectation of an apocalyptic end to the world threatens the very fabric of our society and our planet. After all, why recycle if the world will end before the next generation has to deal with the consequences of our pollution? Those who feel we are living in the “End Times” shelve world problems that threaten our very existence as a species. These are not all uneducated, disenfranchised people. The late Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are among the world leaders whose evangelistic worldview severely impacted their ability to think about modern problems. Reliance on an omnipotent God instead of ourselves is a prescription for disaster.

Jerrye Broomhall is serving a 20-year sentence at a women’s prison in Oklahoma. She is also earning her bachelor’s degree in specialized studies with a concentration in biology, history, and philosophy. She is a junior with approximately one full academic year of studies left to complete her degree from Ohio University. She writes: “I am determined to salvage my life and plan to do so with an academic career. I have aged out of my heroin addiction and hope for much more from life before I am through. I work in the library and love to read. I play poker and Scrabble in my spare time. My interests include evolutionary biology and religious philosophies. After I receive my undergraduate degree, I will go on to graduate school.”

The Hungry Mouth of Meaning

By Michael Martin



Most people in this world, I found out, are never given the kind of chance I had, the chance to decide for themselves. Many children are not just taught that there is only one correct belief system, but also that questioning that belief system is wrong. They are molded into adults who refuse to even check and see if what they believe in is worth anything. When I was younger I was baffled by this. Even if such intellectual confinement had been thrust upon them without their consent, why would they continue to embrace it so fully? But again, I was raised in a house without locks on the doors; I had a free rein to enter any intellectual domain I chose. I simply didn’t understand how someone might be locked in a room. What kept them from walking out the door? What made them need this room so badly that they turned a blind eye to the precarious construction of their spiritual shelter? For that matter, why did society on the whole walk into that room to begin with?

We are hungry for meaning. We are pattern-forming machines, our ability to extrapolate a larger picture from a small amount of information is what makes us so successful as a species, because the sooner we understand something, the sooner we can use it to our advantage. One very special application of this is our attempt to understand each other, our constant conscious and subconscious alertness to other people’s facial expressions, their body movements–are they happy, are they angry, are they lying, do they know we’re lying–in an unending attempt to figure them out. We do this so constantly that we can’t stop. We organize clouds into faces, we ascribe emotional states to inanimate objects, we name hurricanes.

Everything is meaning out of nothing.

Michael Martin is majoring in illustration at Cornish College of the Arts. He writes:

“After several years of geographical sampling inside and outside America, I have settled on Seattle. I spend my time reading, drinking healthy but foul-tasting juiced vegetables, arguing with friends, and drawing dragons for the kids at the Boys and Girls Club (who are a lot more impressed by my talent than the people I’ve sent my portfolios to. It’s extremely gratifying).

“I plan to stay in this beautiful and just mildly deranged city for many years to come.”

My Secular Inspiration

By Joshua Parry


God is not the only thing children face that is more a thing of imagination and control than real life. Think of Santa Claus. What prepared me for atheism and the search for truth was my first battle against Santa Claus. . . . On Christmas Eve my parents were always odd. We could go in their room, and my dad would always look like he was waiting to do something. So I hid under the tree in a box wrapped in Christmas paper, little happy reindeer and elves plastered all over its red surface. If you looked closely at it, maybe you could notice the two missing Rudolphs, now replaced with black voids. Eye holes. The back of this box I left open, so I could crawl in and peer out into the dim light of the living room. Unfortunately I awoke in the morning in my room. My own self, my enemy I had fallen asleep. Despite this setback, the very next day I found in my mom’s dresser the exact same stickers that were on my presents from Santa Claus. The answer was simple. My mom was a liar, and so was the old man. With that unknown solved, I moved on. . . .

Joshua Parry is a sophomore at the University of Arizona. Josh plays for the university’s hockey team and is majoring in molecular biology.

Freedom From Religion Foundation