What I Learned at the Reason Rally

By Andrew Seidel, FFRF Constitutional Consultant

FFRF knows how to put together a table

The FFRF staff, and particularly Jackie Douglas and Katie Daniel, know how to set up a table that draws a crowd. The FFRF table was beautiful. We had tons of free rally signs, stickers, debaptismal certificates, bookmarks, Freethought Todays, and so much more. Our table was constantly swamped. Behind our table stood huge backdrops featuring some of FFRF’s most successful billboards such as “Imagine No Religion,” “In Reason We Trust,” and our newest, “This is what an atheist looks like.” The billboard is part of our Out of the Closet campaign. FFRF is has T-shirts with the “This is what an atheist looks like” slogan, yours truly wore one that day. A big reason for the popularity of our table was the “This is what an atheist looks like” photo booth, where people could pose behind hanging banner with the “this is what an atheist looks like” slogan and poke their heads through a framed hole. Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of attendees had their photo snapped behind our newest motto, including Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor; The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta; Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation who gave $250,000 to help put on the Reason Rally (Thanks Todd!); and even Waldo of Where's Waldo frame.

FFRF knows how to put together a table

The FFRF staff, and particularly Jackie Douglas and Katie Daniel, know how to set up a table that draws a crowd. The FFRF table was beautiful. We had tons of free rally signs, stickers, debaptismal certificates, bookmarks, Freethought Todays, and so much more. Our table was constantly swamped. Behind our table stood huge backdrops featuring some of FFRF’s most successful billboards such as “Imagine No Religion,” “In Reason We Trust,” and our newest, “This is what an atheist looks like.” The billboard is part of our Out of the Closet campaign. FFRF is has T-shirts with the “This is what an atheist looks like” slogan, yours truly wore one that day. A big reason for the popularity of our table was the “This is what an atheist looks like” photo booth, where people could pose behind hanging banner with the “this is what an atheist looks like” slogan and poke their heads through a framed hole. Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of attendees had their photo snapped behind our newest motto, including Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor; The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta; Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation who gave $250,000 to help put on the Reason Rally (Thanks Todd!); and even Waldo of Where's Waldo frame.

FFRF members are the best

At the Rally and at FFRF’s dinners I had the pleasure of meeting many of our members and was dazzled by the kindness, generosity, and intelligence of our membership. People were always willing to help us setup, breakdown, pitch in, and, on one particularly memorable occasion, pick up the bar tab for 3 thirsty FFRF staffers (she refused to give her name but, whoever you are, thank you; I would also like to urge members to continue this tradition at future FFRF events!). I enjoyed meeting all of you and hope to see you at the convention this year. Thank you so much for your support.

16-year-olds can inspire their elders

For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of going to an FFRF convention, you are missing out on some excellent opportunities to meet titans of our movement (like Richard Dawkins this October!). On the Friday night before the rally, FFRF hosted a dinner with Ellery Schempp, who brought the case in which the Supreme Court declared school sponsored bible readings unconstitutional. 

Among the attendees to FFRF’s dinner was Justin Griffith, the driving force behind this weekend’s Rock Beyond Belief (our own Dan Barker will be attending along with Richard Dawkins, and Hemant Mehta). Secular songstress Shelley Segal played a few songs and sang a duet with Dan Barker (listen to some of her songs here). The Reason Documentary Project, produced by Sue Kocher of our very own Triangle Freethought Society, was there to film our dinner and speakers. 

Here’s something else I learned: Dan Barker can play the piano, and I mean really play the piano. He had three separate gigs this weekend, at the rally and at two FFRF dinners, and he has some die-hard fans. Go buy some of his CD’s and enjoy. (This is something of an inside joke because I was already well aware of Dan’s talent as Dan’s piano is in my office and he plays it every day. What a fantastic job I have: fighting theocracy to a live soundtrack.)

Finally, Jessica Ahlquist, the 16 year old who got a prayer banner removed from her school, received a well-deserved standing ovation. Jessica spoke about how, when her peers and community were spouting messages of hate and vitriol, FFRF was their to give her support, encouragement, and a connection to like-minded people. It was a moving affirmation of the importance of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its goals. 

The highlight for me was getting to talk with Jessica at dinner. I told her that I admired her courage. She humbly replied that she just felt that the circumstances were what they were, sort of a right place, right time, kind of thing. But I had to point out that Jessica was more than lucky, she was brave. So far this year, in just three months, FFRF has received 600 legitimate state church complaints. This is only a fraction of the violations that are actually occurring in this country. There are numerous violations happening each day, but only a few people have the courage to actually stand up against the tyranny of the majority. Our movement admires Jessica, not because she was in the right place at the right time, but because she had the courage to stand up for her rights. When her state representative called her “an evil little thing,” she fought on and now bears the title proudly. When adults — grown, supposedly mature individuals in her community — booed and hissed at her when she spoke at school board meetings, she fought on. The scholarship money FFRF gave to Jessica was given to reward her bravery. Let’s hope she inspires courage in her peers. (Also, what were you doing at 16? I think I was trying to fix up my car so I could look cool on the way to my lifeguarding job. I not at all sure I would have done what she did.)

People are going to love Tim Minchin

If you have not heard of Tim Minchin yet, you should check out the links in this paragraph. He’s from Australia and has been somewhat slow in gaining popularity here but he was a huge hit at the rally. Plus, he’s a nice guy. How do I know he’s a nice guy? He told me I was a nice guy. That was nice. 

Tim (I met him, so we’re on a first-name basis now, OK?) performed a few songs. My favorites were “Thank You God,” “the Pope Song,” and “Storm,” a spoken word/beat poem that was fantastic. All are worth listening to, but before you click on this links, which I do recommend, beware that the Pope Song has over 70 repetitions of the F-word. 

Thank You God is the story about god “fixing the cataracts of Sam’s mum.” It is satirical and laugh-out-loud funny. You can listen to a clip here (click on Thank you God).

Storm, tells the story of Tim attending a dinner party where he encounters a hippie and tries to maintain his cool until his "Diplomacy dike groans and the arsehole held back by its stones can be held back no more.”

Finally, we come to “the Pope Song.” This had mixed reviews from some of the attendees I spoke to because Minchin peppers his lyrics with 75 F-bombs. Overall it received a very positive reception and I was delighted to hear it in person (this was the song that originally brought Tim to my attention). However, the conservative media focused on the use of language almost to the exclusion of all else. Tim predicted this and mounts a defense of this song within the song itself.

“The Pope Song” uses “bad” language to expose the backward priorities of our puritanical society. Minchin is bombing the pope “F”s because, to paraphrase Tim, if you cover for someone who rapes children you are no better than the rapist; because if you build your church on claims of moral authority and use threats of hell to impose those beliefs on others in society, you should expect some wrath when we find out you been raping children or protecting their rapists. The point is that if the song, with its filthy language and disrespect, offends you more than the possibility that the pope protected priests who were getting fiddly, “you are just as morally misguided” as that “power-hungry, self-aggrandized bigot in the stupid f***ing hat.” 

Put more simply, Minchin is arguing that if you’re angry about the F-word being used in a song, but not about the pope protecting child rapists from prosecution then you might need to reevaluate your views on morality and corruption. (Incidentally, both The Blaze and Glenn Beck fall into this moral chasm, although I don’t advise looking at the Glenn Beck link because then you have to look at Glenn Beck and one of his conspiracy boards. Ugh.) Personally, I think the song is genius. 

The Westboro Baptist Church Has Hired Writers

FFRF made the big time this weekend. I’m not talking about that fact that we now have a commercial that aired nationally the weekend of the rally or the fact that the commercial will be on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC or two “fake news” programs on Comedy Central or the fact that we are the largest atheist, agnostic, and freethought group in the country and the only one with a legal staff this size working to secure your rights. I’m talking about the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church protested FFRF’s dinner. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the WBC, they are the fundamentalist Christians that protest soldiers’ funerals and hate homosexuals. It turns out that they have hired writers. Their protest signs combined their hatred of gays and atheists with witty quips such as “God H8s Gaytheists” and “God H8s Fagnostics.” They must be farming out their protest signs because this is far too clever for them.

I’m not one to let an opportunity to debate fundies pass me by. Here, you can see a picture of me debating the hate-mongers with a complicated legal argument delivered in American Sign Language. But they got the last word, calling Dan Barker and myself “ladies” as we departed. I still cry about it at night sometimes. 

In conclusion, the Reason Rally was a success. There will not be another rally for at least four or five years, so if you missed out, you should come to FFRF’s conventions, which are just as much, if not more, fun and have the same caliber speakers (This year Richard Dawkins will be speaking, and past speakers include Jessica Ahlquist, Steven Pinker, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Jerry Coyne, Rep. Pete Stark (Calif.), Linda Greenhouse, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Cenk Uygur, Ron Reagan, William Lobdell, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Phil Zuckerman, Daniel C. Dennett, Jeff Sharlet, Christopher Hitchens, Katha Pollitt, and Julia Sweeney, among many others.) We hope you’ll join us. 

Andrew Seidel is the newest member of FFRF’s legal team and our first Constitutional Consultant. He joined FFRF in November and absolutely loves his job. 

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