“I’m an atheist and I vote,” will be the declaration by former Mormon Ray G. Matthews on a prominent digital billboard going up soon in Salt Lake City.
Matthews is part of a provocative secular voter campaign the Freedom From Religion Foundation has launched, which points out that 75 million adult Americans — nearly one in three — are nonreligious. In a variety of billboards and full-page newspaper ads, nonreligious Americans like Matthews are announcing that they devoutly want to keep religion out of government — and are voting that way.
The billboard featuring Matthews will be displayed from Monday, Sept. 19, at 233 W. 600 South in Utah’s capital city. He also will be the centerpiece of a full-page newspaper ad running on Sunday, Sept. 18, in the Salt Lake City Tribune. The ads are timed to observe Constitution Day, Sept. 17, the 235th anniversary of the signing of what FFRF calls the “godless” Constitution.
Some might be surprised to learn that Matthews is an active Republican state delegate. He is a retired librarian, former Brigham Young University adjunct faculty and an ex-Latter Day Saints stake high councilor and member of the bishopric who worked 15 years for the LDS Church. He’s also an anti-war activist, animal rights activist, poet, and current volunteer Shakespeare teacher for seniors.
“I moved to Utah from New York in 1978 and have been an active church/state separationist after discovering the Church's influence over Utah politics,” Matthews adds. "During my 40-year career first with the LDS Church and then with the state of Utah, I have seen first hand how the two merge in our politics and how minority rights suffer. We all prosper when our government is inclusive and all are free from the dominion of someone else’s religion.”
Matthews confides that “in graduate school and post-graduate studies I simply studied myself out: first out of Mormonism, then out of Christianity, then out of all religious mysticism. I give credit to Joseph Campbell, Carl Sagan, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and numerous historians.”
He’s participating in round two of FFRF’s national secular values voter awareness campaign taking place in more than half the states around Constitution Day. The campaign visited other states in FFRF’s earlier “independence from religion” campaign over the Fourth of July. View all ads here.
In the newspaper ad, Matthews asserts: “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.”
He 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, he 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.”
Full-page newspaper ads will also run in the Washington Post and 44 other newspapers, including those in many capital cities.
“We’re putting public candidates and officials on notice that secular voters are here, that WE are the true ‘values voters,’” adds Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, “and that it’s time that our secular viewpoint be respected and represented.”
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, FFRF maintains.
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.