I got an email recently from Gordon Maples, who leads the Southeastern Collegiate Atheist Alliance (SECAA). It was a forward of an email from Sheenan Cole, the secretary of the SSA at the University of Northern Alabama.
My name is Sheenan Cole, I’m the Secretary for our new chapter of SSA at UNA. Our university is located directly in the middle of the southern bible belt and we need help. Most of our students were able to attend the Reason Rally which was a wonderful thing until we had to return home and back to reality. Jeremy Green along with the Freedom From Religion org recently called out Brooks High School here for broadcasting Christian prayer over the loudspeakers at football games and forced the county to stop or face lawsuit. This should have been a wonderful victory but instead has invoked anger, hatred, threats and hostility against our Secular population by the Non-Secular population. One can simply look at the comments on the news articles and that doesn’t cover the half of it. For the first time in what may be our areas history our SSA organization gathered to protest a prayer rally sponsored by the Teaparty for our Lauderdale County school system to put prayer back in local schools. We joined up with a local humanist group and while we were not allowed on the grounds we preceded to march around them. Two local papers covered the event the Times Daily and the Quad Cities Daily. The links to the coverage are: http://timesdaily.com/stories/Students-call-for-return-of-prayers-at-schools,189043 and http://quadcitiesdaily.com.s140587.gridserver.com/?p=14181. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Of course, the SSA will help in whatever ways we can.
But UNA is smack dab in the middle of Alabama – not friendly territory for the godless. Gordon worries that it may be a bit draining hearing all the vitriol from the surrounding communities and asked if I could say something to these students.
Tell them this, Gordon:
Tell them that religions do not win by playing fairly. When I was driving to the Reason Rally I couldn’t go 30 minutes without seeing a billboard threatening me with hell for disbelief. There was a conspicuous absence of any billboard saying, “Come to our church, we have evidence!”
Evidence, reason, winning honestly…these are not the weapons of faith. Bullying, social consequences, and fear are their tools. Look at what Jessica Ahlquist’s community did to try and break her spirits. Look what they did to Damon Fowler. And this is what they do to high schoolers. You bet your ass they’ll do that and worse to collegiates. This is how religions win. It is how they have always won: by fear and by attrition. They win by silencing dissent, once by the point of the sword, now by social punishment.
If we are to wait until we are no longer outnumbered before we raise our voices, we will have just caved to the only weapons of organized religion. By pushing through, by saying in a unified voice that our spirits will not be broken, we have instantly disarmed religion of all the power they have over us.
Tell them to get back up and march right back out there. Tell them that there’s a generation of children growing up right now who will soon take their place, and the looming threat of social punishment at the hands of the majority will suck just as much for them. Tell them we may not win in our lifetimes, but we owe it to those kids to fight anyway. We would not be better by waiting to hand them the responsibility to change the world when we had the opportunity.
Tell them I know it’s a slow, uphill battle, but tell them also that we are making progress. If a day will come when atheists are no longer outnumbered, it will not be because we decided it was easier to be atheists quietly to avoid the inevitable pushback that comes with being vocal about injustice.
Tell them that we have a weapon on our side that has proven throughout history to be more devastating than a mob and more powerful than money: we’re right. We have no need to cow our opponents through fear. We have no need to make allies of Satan or other avenues to fear in order to win – we need only to be honest. And when, after begging the courts to let them break the law fails, the faithful resort to bullying, we need only have the fortitude to keep standing, and to say we are atheists, we are proud to be atheists, and you may not like it but god dammit you are going to treat us as equals.
Tell them I know it’s not easy. Tell them I know there are consequences for rocking the boat.
And tell them I’m proud of them.