Sam Erickson – Cliff Richards Memorial Student Activist Award


Sam Erickson has received $1,000 from FFRF via the Cliff Fisher Memorial Student Activist Award. By Sam Erickson I am a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying economics and political science. I plan on going to law school or graduate school for political science. I would love to get into politics sometime down the road (10 or 20 years from now, who knows?). Last summer I had the pleasure of interning for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, where I did graphic design work and assisted the legal department. I am truly grateful to receive this generous award.

Last spring I helped organize a nationally known conference called the Freethought Festival. Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics at UW-Madison brought in people like Dan Savage, Hemant Mehta, Dale McGowan and FFRF’s Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, among others. Many of their talks centered around activism. We are currently planning FTF4, which will take place on March 13-14 in Madison. It will feature FFRF attorneys Andrew Seidel and Patrick Elliott and many more speakers and is free for everyone.

I grew up in a very Christian household but never really believed in God. I went to church because I wanted to please my parents, but began questioning as early as sixth grade. I realized that I was an atheist by age 13 and proceeded to “come out” to my parents and friends a few months later. That resulted in some social exile at my private Christian high school, but much more difficult problems with my fundamentalist Baptist parents. I was elected AHA president in December 2013. AHA is currently working with the largest funding ever received by a secular student group in the U.S., just over $69,300. We are going through budget hearings now for 2015–16.

Periodically, throughout the school year, we put up signs on Bascom Hill at the center of our campus. We’ve put up signs asking “Questioning Your Faith?” “Dealing With Doubt?” and “Interested in Discussing Non-Belief?” These were then followed by a sign reading “You Are Not Alone,” intended to offer a simple, supportive and positive message to passersby. We then turned these signs into posters, which you can currently see around campus on various bulletin boards.

We also have done a display promoting our weekly meetings, where we asked questions such as “Why are we moral?” “Did the Universe come from nothing?” “Are reason and faith compatible?” and “Is free will an illusion?”

By far the most noteworthy Bascom Hill display is our now-annual “God Graveyard” depicting more than 250 gravestones of gods, from Greek and Roman mythology to ancient Mesopotamia. We have also shared these materials with the Secular Student Alliance in the hopes that other groups can use the idea.
This past December, a few weeks after applying and being approved for a permit, we put up a display in the Wisconsin Capitol to advocate for the state/church separation. Our display depicted the Flying Spaghetti Monster, followed by “He boiled for your sins!” and “Be touched by His Noodly Appendage before it is too late!”

This was my favorite part of the display: “Think this is ridiculous? We agree. Religious ideas should not be promoted in the halls of government. Protect the separation of church and state, it protects us all.” When the state decided to turn the Capitol into an open forum, they opened the floodgates, which our FSM flew right through.

After sending out a press release, fielding calls for a day and being interviewed on a local radio station, I was interviewed on the Michael Medved radio show, nationally syndicated to over 200 different markets, with Chris Calvey (AHA’s revitalizer and FFRF graduate student essay contest winner). I was also quoted in a front-page Huffington Post article.

We are currently planning devious ways to make the display even bigger, better and more blasphemous this holiday season!

Our broad goal for everything we do at AHA is to promote the discussion of faith and religion on the UW-Madison campus and to advocate for secular issues.


Freedom From Religion Foundation