“I’m an atheist and I vote,” courageously proclaims Missouri grandmother, volunteer and retired academic adviser Jodette C. Lenser, on a billboard going up this week on Highway 50, near the intersection of Highway 54, in Jefferson City.
Lenser is part of a provocative secular voter campaign the Freedom From Religion Foundation is launching this weekend, which points out that today 75 million adult Americans — nearly one in three — are nonreligious. In a variety of billboards and full-page newspaper ads, nonreligious Americans like Lenser are announcing that they devoutly want to keep religion out of government — and are voting that way.
Lenser, pictured in front of the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, will also appear in two full-page newspaper ads running on Sunday, Sept. 18, in the Jefferson City News Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The ads are also timed to observe Constitution Day, Sept. 17, the 235th anniversary of the signing of what FFRF calls the “godless” Constitution.
“We were first among nations to adopt a godless constitution, whose only references to religion are exclusionary,” reminds Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, “and that precious constitutional principle of separation between state and church is very much endangered today by changes on the U.S. Supreme Court and the rise of Christian nationalism.”
FFRF works as a state/church watchdog, with more than 38,000 nonreligious members, including Lenser.
Lenser, who is retired from the University of Missouri, works part time at a public library, bicycles, participates in occasional activities with the Columbia Atheists, is active on various atheist facebook groups, and contributes time or support for Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and Planned Parenthood. “I recently arranged with the public library to include an atheist in their Human Book program on diversity and inclusiveness. When school board elections are scheduled, I ask the candidates about their views regarding state/church separation,” she says.
Lenser is participating in round two of FFRF’s national secular values voter awareness campaign taking place in more than half the states. The campaign visited other states in FFRF’s earlier “independence from religion” campaignover the Fourth of July. View all ads here.
Full-page newspaper ads will also run in the Washington Post and 44 other newspapers, including those in many capital cities.
In the ad, Lenser says: “The ‘Nones’ (those of us unaffiliated with religion) are now 29 percent of the U.S. population. We are the largest ‘denomination’ by religious identification.”
She calls for keeping religion out of government, social policy and public schools. Notably, given the overturning of Roe. v. Wade and increasing attacks on LGBTQ rights, her ad also demands that religion be kept “out of bedrooms, personal lives and health care decisions — including when or whether to have children, and whom to love or marry.”
Adds Gaylor, “We’re putting public candidates and officials on notice that secular voters are here, that WE are the true ‘values voters’ and that it’s time that our secular viewpoint be respected and represented.”
The ads involve a diversity of freethinkers, from a Mormon Republican in Utah to Louisiana’s Joe E. Mills, who is part of a state Black Nonbelievers chapter.
The increasingly overt calls for Christian nationalism and the alarming recent tendency of the U.S. Supreme Court to privilege religion and eviscerate individual rights require that secular voices be heard, concludes Lenser and FFRF.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has more than 38,000 members throughout North America, serves as a membership group for like-minded atheists, freethinkers and humanists, and works diligently as a state/church watchdog to uphold the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.