Student Activist Awards

Holly Baer - First Yip Harburg Youth Activist Award – 2015

HollyBaerHolly Baer is the first recipient of FFRF's $1,000 Yip Harburg Youth Activist Award, generously endowed by the Yip Harburg Foundation and FFRF members Ernie and Margie Harburg, the children of the famous lyricist of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Holly's op-ed (below, under her byline) headlined "This misrepresentation of church and state" first appeared Nov. 3 in The Daily Mississippian (the University of Mississippi at Oxford student newspaper) and is reprinted with permission.

By Holly Baer

On Thursday, Oct. 29, the city of Collins received a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in regard to Christian statues in a publicly maintained and operated park.

I spent the first 12 years of my life living in Collins, and the vast majority of my maternal family still lives in the town.

A quick view into the dreaded comment section of the local news channel's website shows horrendous vitriol from the mouths of those who love Jesus and say they are his warriors.
They say: "Those nonbelievers need a city of their own to move to. Far far away from us." With a rousing agreement: "They will have their own city, it's called HELL."
They say: "I think the city should take the complainer down . . . So no, leave it up . . . And GOD Bless AMERICA."

They say: "how disgusting whoever filed this complaint should be run out of wherever they normally stay go to some country where there are other like-minded people and leave our country and our faith alone."

From the hellish comment section, you'd think that Mississippi is the center of a God-filled theocracy. In the past few months, my former high school received complaints because of an anti-atheist rant by a history teacher, and my former school district received a cease and desist letter regarding marching band music. Each of these things were met with loud angry protests from Christians, saying that this was clearly discrimination. The reality is much simpler.

For the first time, Christians are being required to follow the law, and they are no longer allowed to show preferential treatment to Christianity.

Being a nonbeliever in Mississippi is rough. We're constantly being told that Christianity is under attack while simultaneously being treated as broken people by some members of the church. We're told that Christianity is the single most important thing, while one of the most Christian states has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, new HIV infections and gonorrhea and chlamydia infections.

This isn't meant to bash Christianity or Christians in general. Many Christians are good, kind people who work very hard to make the world a better place. But many Christians say awful things about anyone who doesn't believe. Many Christians take complaints about legal violations as personal attacks on Jesus. Some Christians believe an angry mob will solve any problems by eliminating those complaining.

Unfortunately, these people are just as Christian as the good people. Sometimes, the good Christians will say that these cruel people aren't really Christians, but that isn't fair.
We don't get to label them "non-Christians" just because they're mean. Even if good people could write them off as non-Christians, that continues the cycle that bad people can't be Christian, and that all nonbelievers have to be corrupt and bad.

As a nonbeliever, I'm not convinced. If Mississippi is a hotbed of religious beauty, then it makes religion look even less appealing.

Holly's blog "Sex, Religion, Politics and other topics to avoid at the dinner table" is at hollybaer.com.

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Holly also writes:

When I enrolled in the University of Mississippi to pursue a degree in religious studies, I intended to be a missionary and live abroad spreading the gospel. Three years later, I am an outspoken writer, columnist and blogger chronicling my own struggles and frustrations as an ex-Christian in the Deep South.

When my hometown of Collins received a complaint from FFRF for illegal Christian decorations, I watched and listened to family and acquaintances make combative statements toward the person who informed FFRF of the legal violations. Many called for the "complainer" to be run out of town and said they deserved to have their house burned down.
Almost the entirety of my family, including those who no longer lived in Collins, went to the "Rally For Christmas" at a town hall meeting to discuss how to handle the letter of complaint. Instead, it became a religious revival, with Mayor V.O. Smith pledging to keep the decorations up.

As an opinion columnist for The Daily Mississippian, I wrote a response condemning the behavior I had seen as well as the superiority complex of Christians in the state. Despite claiming to be one of the best, most Christian states, Mississippi mostly excels at teen pregnancy, obesity, lack of education and a slew of other negative things. Mississippi has a history of explosive responses to being required to follow the law. The persecution complex is fueled by the idea that Christianity deserves a special place in society.

After graduation, I plan to continue writing and speaking out as a nonbeliever. I am pursing a master of fine arts in poetry, where nonbelief, subversion of religious themes and the conflict of my identity versus my upbringing have become central in my poems. I hope to continue to be involved with FFRF and to advocate for true separation of church and state.

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