FFRF selected seven essays from the students of color high school contest it deemed worthy of honorable mention status. Each of the following students received $200 from FFRF. Here are edited excerpts from each of them.
Questioning can lead to the truth
By Dominic Ryan Vince Cruz
I remember my upbringing as a Filipino Roman Catholic, in which a key feature of this religion is the negative approach to questions. You are betraying your faith and your devotion to God as the center of your morality when you question.
But what is actually wrong with questioning? Of verifying? If there is a God, why is it something you have to believe in? Why is it not just simple fact?
If you go through the rest of your life without ever questioning what you're told, especially about religion, then how would you ever know if there was any inaccuracy with what you believe?
Remember that truth and belief are essentially separate. You have to be able to question, because if you don't, you can't establish what the truth is.
Dominic, 18, is from Frederick, Md., and will be attending Washington College and plans to double major in international relations and economics. For his career, Dominic would like to work in public policy, analytics and/or international law.
Rising above the views of family, community
By Miaun McCloud
The highest form of blasphemy a person in the black community could commit is daring to have their own thoughts and beliefs. Religion is a staple within the African-American household and is pushed heavily throughout generations.
My mother used to be my greatest supporter. Little did I know how much of a falsifier she truly was. Unlike my siblings, I never showed enthusiasm when attending church. And when I would express my opposition, I was ignored. When I finally gained the courage to talk to my mother about being a freethinker, she all but disowned me. Gone was the caring woman who loved and nurtured me; instead, she was replaced by a monomatic religious freak.
While being black and being a freethinker may not mix, I will rise above the myopic views of the people within my family and community. Just like oil, I will surge above the dense water that is religion, for I will not let stigmas hold me back.
Miaun 17, is from Detroit, and will be attending Grand Valley State University. She volunteers at nursing homes, animal shelters and homeless shelters and also participates in #LunchBag, which provides meals for those in need.
Belief in different thoughts and ideas
By Erin O'Malley
I attended Catholic school as one of only a handful of students of color until I switched to a larger, more diverse public school when I was 12. I'd never met anyone who outwardly identified as an atheist.
I realized that I had only followed my religion because I was expected to, and as I continued to come to terms with my personal beliefs, I perceived that I, an Asian-American bisexual woman, didn't fit in with the older, white and mostly affluent church-goers.
Today, I do not believe in a religion anymore, but I do believe in the humanity of those willing to take a step back from what they've always been told, and embrace different thoughts and ideas.
Erin, 18, from York, Pa., is the co-founder of Sooth Swarm Journal, an international literary magazine, and her writing has been nationally recognized. She also co-founded a Gay-Straight Alliance. Her activism has earned her the George Eastman Leadership Award and the Hampton Roads Pride Foundation Award.
History of faith rooted in fear
By Dylan Palmer
Although I'm not religious, I know a whole lot about the history of faith.
Christian Europeans invaded in search of resources to claim and people to brainwash. All in the name of God. Christianity caught on in my ancestors' motherland because of fear. After watching their people slaughtered, their women raped and their homes burned, they knew that a God that merciless was not one to question. That fear became a tool wielded by the Europeans to keep the victims of their imperialism docile.
When I ask my Christian African-American peers today why they are believers, I often hear the same response. "My faith helps me get through tough times," or "My faith keeps me sane," they say. But isn't that exactly what the church wants you to think?
Since its inception, Christianity has been a tool of control.
I understand the fierce oppressive circumstances that have made these beliefs so prevalent. But I do challenge believers of color to know their history and stop searching the sky for a heaven or a God when there's so much to see right in front of them.
Dylan 18, is from Portland, Ore., where he was the Black Student Union president at his high school. He also plays soccer, and was editor for the national award-winning school magazine and the leader of the Student Equity Team. Dylan will be attending New York University before going to law school.
Open letter to my fellow believer
By Aven Turner
My name is Aven, and I am not a believer.
Being of color and from a Middle-Eastern background already places me in the non-trustworthy drawer. But atheism on top of that? That just places a big lock on my door. Little do you know the subtle prejudice engenders me to feel less, when I merely want to pursue my truth peacefully.
When I look at religion, I do not see a comforting truth, but carefully crafted propaganda. I see a rulebook. I see a childish illusion, a clinging to an ideal because it seems comforting, despite the itching feeling of this ideal being absurd. For me, such an itch cannot be ignored, it turns into aching. Lying to myself is not the easy way out; it destroys me intellectually.
I actually remember the exact day I became an atheist. I remember that I felt so inspired and free, and just the thought of it made me restless.
Letting go of the idea that there is this all-controlling God felt incredible. I felt in control of my life, and so fascinated with the idea that the whole world just functions. It just exists. Finally, I no longer felt as if I was lying to myself.
When I go to bed at night, wake up in the morning, or take a walk in the afternoon, I find comfort and peace knowing I have pursued this trail of truth.
Aven, 17, is from Plainfield, Ill., and will be attending the University of Illinois. She volunteers at a children's museum and has earned a seal of bi-literacy for German and has numerous accolades for speaking French.
Finding my own path through life
By Shejan Heaven
Being born and raised in Bangladesh almost guaranteed which path I would follow. The country, of which nearly 90 percent of the people are Muslim, showed me how I "should" live my life.
It was not until I moved to Atlanta when everything changed. I found an interest in science and mathematics. I began to stray from the teachings of Allah.
I told my parents how I felt. I explained everything, but they were absolutely appalled. They were already imagining their eldest son burning in hellfire. The sheikh at my mosque told them to send me to Arabic school, and that is where I struggled for the next few months.
I came home a broken 16-year-old, filled with sadness and hate toward my parents for sending me to such a horrible place. Eventually, I forgave them.
Shejan, 18, is from Doraville, Ga., will be attending the University of Georgia and plans to major in biology. He plays soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee and cricket, and has played the violin for seven years and the piano for three.