FFRF Awards 12-year-old $1,000 Scholarship and Activist Award

There have already been a couple of posts on this site about how the Hamilton County Commissioners (in Tennessee) have been praying “in Jesus’ name” at meetings.

12-year-old Maia Disbrow was one of the people speaking out against the prayers.

Here’s video of her speaking to the commissioners:

Good morning. My name is Maia Disbrow, and I am twelve years old. I am a perfectly normal young adult, although some of my friends would beg to differ.

I was present at the meeting at which my dad spoke. The prayer was very rude to me and some of my closest friends, not to mention parts of my family.

My dad did not put me up to this. I came because I care about this and things like it. All through elementary school, I was teased and ridiculed by people who I thought were my friends. Whenever the subject of me being a freethinker came up, I was singled out. By my friends. You are doing the same thing that they did to me at every meeting you have. Singling me out. Singling out every single person in Hamilton County who is not Christian.

It is not fair for you to pray openly to your God without praying to all the others as well. I believe a moment of silence would accommodate all beliefs, not just one. And after speaking today, I hope I have some friends left at school next year.

Good day.

For that action, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is awarding her a $1,000 student activist scholarship, making her one of the youngest recipients of the award ever:

Maia got involved when she accompanied her father to a board meeting where he spoke up against government prayers, and witnessed the board giving a special award to the preacher. Maia decided on her own that she wanted to speak against prayers at the July 18 meeting.

“I realized that there were some things I’d like to say to them. It took me a while to decide because even though I go to a middle school for the arts that is supposed to accept everyone, I was worried. During elementary school, I was bullied about my beliefs and whenever the subject of my religion, or lack thereof, came up, my social status dropped for a few days. When I realized that the county commissioners were actually behaving like a bunch of fifth-grade bullies, I sat down and started writing my address to them.

“We are so impressed with activism by high schoolers and even middle schoolers in areas of the country that are hotbeds of intolerance, and are standing up not just for their rights but for the Constitution,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Congratulations to Maia! An interview with her will be posted on this site soon :)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • StarStuff

    OUTstanding!  Congratulations, young lady :)

  • Annie

    Way to go Maia… and to the FFRF for recognizing her efforts.  Looking forward to the interview.
     

  • http://diff-path.blogspot.com/ Jennifer

    Wow, she is an amazing and courageous young lady.  Good for her!  I would love to know what the community’s response was.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Nolte/48701519 Christopher Nolte

    I have a question: Why is it when we hear about christian children doing
    things like this, we often make the claim that children that age can’t
    really and truly understand their actions or words, yet when it happens
    here, we’re falling over ourselves to give this child accolades and
    money? I’m not saying that what she did wasn’t courageous (or more to
    the matter, right), and I truly hope that she maintains this path on
    which she’s headed, but how do we differentiate our reactions here from
    christians lauding the actions if a pre-teen were to implore her county commissioners FOR prayer?

    • Chris

       This is the thought I had when I read this. She could well be a smart girl imitating her father, in the same way we see children of religious parents imitate and “believe.”

      • Ari

         Very possible. Children often do emulate their parents, after all.  Even if she were only a freethinker because she’s imitating her father, though, it’s commendable to have children observe and think for themselves. What a brave girl.

    • Stephen

      With religion there’s a vast number of claims that need considering, for atheism it is only required that these claims aren’t accepted. It’s a much simpler concept. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine this young woman (I feel like a teacher saying that) questioned a few religious references made by friends, and the rest followed exactly as stated.

    • Annie

      It would really depend on what the Christian child was saying or protesting.  When it’s a five year old boy  standing on an altar talking negatively about “homos” (remember him?), I’m pretty sure his parents put him up to it.  Or the 12 year old girl who shouts of all the people who are going to hell unless they take Jesus into their heart, I’m pretty sure that’s indoctrination.  As for Maia, I imagine her parent’s lack of beliefs helped form her own attitudes, but her story was much simpler.  She was asking grown-ups not to favor one group of people, when they are supposed to represent all.  She spoke of her own experiences with losing friends due to this very reason, which was important to include in her speech, as it helped complete the story. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Nolte/48701519 Christopher Nolte

         I agree with you completely that in a lot of ways it would depend on what the christian child said or did. I purposefully tried to avoid likening what Maia did to kids spouting the hate-speech that they hear from their parents. I just imagined some young, sweet-faced girl going up to a council like this that conducted completely secular meetings and asking that they pray prior to their meetings. Nothing more. I’d be completely amazed if that wouldn’t get plastered all over fox news, or have the Pat Robertsons of the world cooing about how great it is that a young child wants to have her elected officials invoking god prior to do non-religious work. And how bothered many in our community would be, while saying that this child was indoctrinated.

        I can’t stress enough how great it was that she did this. She seems to be an incredibly bright and gifted young girl. I’m sure she did this of her own volition and had little or no input from her parents. But I think that when children start coming into the picture in these situations, that we need to be a bit more careful as to how much weight we afford their words and actions.

        • Annie

           I see your point.  So, if we imagine a calm and well-spoken 12 year old Christian girl going to a county commission meeting and asking everyone to pray for guidance (and perhaps giving an anecdote as to how prayer has helped her make decisions in her own life), we certainly shouldn’t make fun of her.   I would, however,  hope that someone would point out that she is wrong and explain that government business meetings are not the proper place for prayer.

    • Ibis3

       Her statement here isn’t advocating freethought or any particular “doctrine” she might have picked up as a result–except perhaps a knowledge of the constitutional provision of church-state separation, but that she ought to be learning about in history class anyway. She’s advocating against what she perceives as bullying directed at her, relating it to her own experiences at school.  I don’t think you could compare that to a young person her age spouting bigotry (racism, homophobia etc. which has to be taught), or calling for prayer in council meetings (that usually goes with a whole cluster of doctrines about Christian entitlement).

      There *was* widespread condemnation here of the little kid who confronted Michele Bachmann with an obviously coached script about marriage equality.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Watching that brought a tear to my eye. Well done young lady, well done.

  • AxeGrrl

    All I can say is…..what a frigging GREAT year this has been when it comes to youth activists  :)

    When people talk disparagingly about ‘today’s youth’, I just think of young people like like Maia and Jessica Ahlquist…….who (along with the others that came up in the news this year) make the future (and specifically, the future of freethinking) look very bright :)

    Very inspiring :)


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