During the April 4 City Council meeting on the Vietnam War memorial in Mingus Park [in Coos Bay, Ore., a monument with a Latin cross about which FFRF has formally complained], I was flanked on either side by two men: my husband and a friend from out of town. There was a perceived threat to safety due to the overwhelming unpopularity of my viewpoint and provocative online comments.
I was outnumbered about 300 to four. It pleased me to learn that when I spoke, those with opposing views listened to me quietly and attentively, affording me the same respect during my five minutes of speaking time that I had afforded them during their combined two-and-a-half hours of time.
Something else happened that took me completely by surprise. During a short restroom break, I slid over into the empty seat beside me to lean forward and speak to friends in the next row up. The woman in the seat next to me repeatedly sighed and tsk’d in an irritated way. Eventually, she said to me in a sarcastic tone, “Excuse me.”
I had no idea what she appeared to be so bothered about. She finally sputtered, “Could you move to your own seat, I’m saving this (chair) for a family member!”
This occurred two hours into the meeting, and, as I expected, no family member arrived to sit in the seat which remained empty for the rest of the meeting. The woman put her coat on the seat.
For the final 45 minutes of the meeting, each time I shifted position or crossed my legs, her head would whip around as she huffed sardonically to make sure I wasn’t disturbing her coat.
I think her behavior is most likely the exception and not the norm that people of religion feel toward people of irreligion. But for anyone who shares the sentiment of this woman, whose actions I found so foreign and so odd, please know that atheism is not contagious. We don’t have “cooties” and you can’t “catch” what we’ve got. Secular humanism is a philosophy of life, not a medical condition.
Thank you to the four people who shook my hand at the end of the meeting, and for the kind words of two of those attendees. They shared with me that although they disagreed with my viewpoint, they respected what I said and were glad that when I spoke, it was not a negative commentary on religion.
You have no idea how very much appreciated this human kindness and the warmth of your connection truly was!
The South Coast Secular Society is grateful to FFRF for its interest in our church/state violation. Although I don’t enjoy the stress and negative attention this has garnered, if the end result is that people begin talking about this topic with increased acceptance and understanding of irreligion, partnered by less religious bullying and exclusion, then this will have been worth the effort.
FFRF member Dawn Brittain is active in the South Coast Secular Society and has been writing monthly secular articles and weekly gardening articles for her local paper for about a year. “The editor is an advocate of freedom of speech and does not shy away from controversy,” Dawn says. She also tends to her own extensive gardens and volunteers for the Coquille Valley Seed Library and Coquille Community Garden. “It is my hope that acclimating people of religion to the philosophies of secular humanism by positive words and actions will eventually lead to better communication and understanding.”