Do Atheists Face Discrimination In Southeast Wisconsin?

Of course there’s discrimination against secular people in Southeast Wisconsin”, I thought to myself, “I just said as much!” But my questioner’s tone had smacked of incredulity, and as his request for clarification with emphasis sank in, so did the weight of the irony.

Wisconsin, in the 70s, had a reputation for excellence in education that was powerful enough to reach the ears of a 12 year old boy in Connecticut. Both my parents were teachers, so these things came up in our house. Yet still, the poo-pooing New England patricians of my youth had always referred to Wisconsin, along with Iowa, as the only frontier provinces actually interested in educating their unwashed masses. To say it has gone in the opposite direction in the 40 years since, is an overwhelming understatement. Education of course, makes one more intelligent and less religious, so as the pendulum of scholastic achievement swung inexorably back to its nadir, the level of fundamentalist fervor quite naturally rose in converse proportion. It had risen so high in fact that a law had to be passed in Madison prohibiting…..discrimination against the non-religious!

At a high profile company near us, their semis all have illuminated crosses in their grills, an incredibly effective conversion tool coming out of the fog at 75 mph, I can assure you. Massive, thundering, diesel-powered Churches that Peterbilt. Bleary-eyed, tweaked-out road warriors looking for an answer hardly stand a chance. Meanwhile, back at headquarters, job candidates are subtly screened for religious accessories and puritan dress, and should one make it through to an interview with the boss, she is subject to frank questions about her personal spiritual beliefs, in bold violation of the law. When we moved into our neighborhood some years ago, a neighbor introduced herself and invited us to her church. When I explained politely that we were atheist, she turned and walked away, and I have not seen her since. Only little Noah, who is not allowed to wave to us. My 6 and 7 year old have been told they are going to hell by classmates at public school. My 6 year old takes it in stride, telling listeners flatly that there is no hell, and “Jesus is just as fake as God” (I couldn’t have been prouder.) But her older brother is less certain, and needs held and loved, and reassured that these are just stories people made up to scare and control others, and look how good they work, by the way. He will be fine, because he has a support system, but others aren’t so lucky…. The marginalization of atheists which occurs within their own families, leads to chronic, lifelong, crippling feelings of guilt and mental oppression. So yes. Yes, atheists do face discrimination, even in Southeast Wisconsin.

The question is, what can be done about it? Much can be done, obviously, but it all starts with one thing: Admitting what we are, and announcing we are here. Sound familiar? That’s right, we need to come out. Come out to our colleagues, come out to our friends and neighbors, come out to our families. Most of all, we need to come out to our politicians, and demand that they come out as well, or reaffirm for us all that they base their decisions, to any degree, on ancient mythologies. The recent emergence of the Openly Secular campaign and OS Day are perfect opportunities to come out and join the movement. Start with someone you trust and move on from there. When you are ready, come out and join us in the public arena. It’s one thing to meet in secret with like-minded friends, and quite another to hold hands in the street and force progress on a broken and backward society. So come out. Come out for controversial billboards. Come out for groundbreaking atheist conferences. Come out for TV appearances, Newspaper Articles, Socials, Adopt-A-Hiways, Sports Leagues, Field Trips, Activism and Charity. Most of all, come out for you. You and your beautiful mind. Because the only way to end discrimination is to stand up and fight it, like our friends have done before us.

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Answering the Call

It was awesome to see such a large gathering at today’s SWiFT annual elections. As we move into the next phase of our evolution as a 501c3 WI Corporation, I’m excited for how far we have come in the past few years. Our social calendar is filling up with activities, our numbers are growing, and our relationships with national organizations are growing stronger everyday. We have made an impact on our local community and have gotten noticed on a national level. All of these things were but dreams half a decade ago. Kudos to all for their hard work and efforts.

Today’s elections represent a massive change from past elections. It was the largest group actually participating in the voting process to date. There was a time when the election of officers was more of a draft than a formal election process with candidates vying for positions. Thanks to all who ran for office. And to those that didn’t run for office, or didn’t win an election, remember, you still have an important roll to play and have a responsibility to the group, and the movement, to get involved whenever and however you can. To quote a famous religious icon (Yes I quote them if they’re good), “Be the change you want to see in the world.” To make and maintain a healthy, vibrant, freethought community it takes many people all doing their part.

Congratulations to all of our new officers and board members; and, to all members, thank you for answering the call.

Kurt Bocksenbaum
SWiFT Board of Directors

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New Directions for Growth

As most of you are aware, SWiFT has been branching out in new directions. Recently SWiFT has acquired the Atheist Community of Milwaukee Meetup Group. We will be administering this great tool to help fellow atheists stay in touch and provide many opportunities to meet new friends.

Swift has just created a new group on Atheist Nexus. For those of you that have not joined Atheist Nexus, we encourage you to do so. Atheist Nexus is like a Facebook for atheists. You create your own identity complete with a comment wall, just like Facebook; however, it’s just for atheists. There are thousands of atheists from all over the country and right here in our back yard. Check it out for yourself. Please stop by, say hi, “friend” me and other fellow SWiFT members and join the group.

Throughout the summer, SWiFT will be organizing several events to bring the area’s freethinkers together. Look forward to dinners, outings, field trips, and more.

All of these exciting changes are done with the intent to grow and bring together our local freethought community. Reaching out to the local community will help to grow SWiFT’s membership and better position us to address the needs of the community. Right now we are focusing on growing the organization and creating a true freethought community. As we do grow, we will partake more in local government and work to protect the rights and freedoms of rational freethinkers both here in Wisconsin, and nationally, as well.

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Voting in Christian Brown Deer

Brown Deer is a small Milwaukee suburb of about twelve thousand people. Today as I went to vote at the Lutheran church that had its community room transformed into a polling center, I was keenly aware of the paper cross proudly thumb-tacked to the bulletin board between the cutout pictures of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. My leering gaze was interrupted by a cordial salutation from one of the volunteers who knows me by name. I smiled and said, “Good morning.” As my gaze returned to the offending icon, representing thousands of years of oppression and bloody killing, I was interrupted again by another smiling face issuing another genuinely friendly salutation. Should I stand out of the line I was in and make a scene and demand that the offending 12” piece of paper be removed. After all it is the principle of the matter. I was genuinely offended. On the other hand, this is my community and these simple people meant me no harm. Why should I ruin their day and by the angry atheist? In the end, I decided not to say anything. I went and voted and promptly left the church.

Those of you who know me, know what a difficult position I was forced into by the ignorant Christian majority of Brown Deer. I suppose I justified my inaction by rationalizing it was a matter of degrees. Had the cross been larger, had there been someone preaching in the room, I would have been forced to take action. But the little paper cross was so small. And yet, it was large enough to offend me. I decided I will send a letter to the Village President and perhaps someone at the state election board just so they are aware of the situation. Legal precedent would not be in my favor if I filed a formal complaint. Curious if anyone else has had a similar situation?

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SWiFT Opposes Walker Budget Proposal

SWiFT is not a political organization and as a rule stays out of politics; however, we have been drawn into the fight against Governor Scott Walker by provisions in his new budget proposal.

The new Wisconsin budget proposal not only extends, but substancially increases support for the unconstitutional school voucher program. It is well know that Scott Walker does not support the public education system. However, providing tax payer dollars to support charter schools crosses the line and must be dealt with. SWiFT does not nor can not support any proposal where tax payer dollars could be used to fund religious education or indoctrination. Please click here to go to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s response to this latest assault. Please join us in protesting this blatant abuse of powers by taking action as indicated on the FFRF website.

SWiFT stands with FFRF and others to formally protest this inclusion into the state’s budget. Public money must not be used to fund private religious organizations.

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A Night of Unbelief

A big thank you to everyone who participated in the SWiFT event this past Friday evening. For those of you that did not attend, you really missed a good show.

Local author and fellow SWiFT member M. Anton Mikicic gave a very informative talk about his book god is redundant. He is a great speaker and really related to the audience well.  Tom Flynn gave an incredibly thorough treatment of the current (and past) state of the demographics of freethought today. He gave a lot of useful background into how people manipulate statistics for their own purposes. We learned that out of the 40 million plus “Nones” in the United States, that many more of them are atheists than was previously thought. Much of Tom’s presentation relied on two important recent surveys: The American Religious Identification Survey and the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey.  Both of these are available for download in their entirety on the Resources page of this website.

Tom was a very patient and gracious speaker. He fielded a number of questions from people on a range of topics – including, but not limited to, “Why do people still believe in religion?” For some, statistical analysis can be daunting; however, Tom did an outstanding job of trying to inject humor without losing the educational impact.  He is a great speaker and a good friend of SWiFT.  Thank you Tom!

The book signing at the end of the evening was fun. For those of you who have not purchased god is redundant, you really should.  Besides supporting one of our own, it really is a good book.  I will be posting a review for it shortly. Tom had copies of his sci-fi novels Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred, as well as, a cloth bound copy of the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief which he edited for sale.

In his presentation, Tom talked a lot about the Council for Secular Humanism and it’s magazine Free Inquiry. At the next SWiFT meeting we will be discussing both. As SWiFT members, all new subscribers are eligible for a great discount on an annual subscription.

For those who did attend, please post feedback – good or bad. SWiFT will be doing more events like this at different venues throughout southeast Wisconsin.

Again, thanks to all for making this one of SWiFT’s most successful public events!

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Carl Sagan Day

Although not formally a self-proclaimed atheist, Carl Sagan embodied the spirit of atheism and freethought. Sagan, more than anyone in recent memory, inspired millions to look at the universe with eyes open rather than closed. November 9th is Carl Sagan’s birthday. The Council for Secular Humanism has a website dedicated to him. Having a day named after this pioneer is very apropos. Many years ago when I was struggling with my own atheism, his book Broca’s Brain, really helped to solidify my convictions. He completely destroyed many myths and superstitions to the point of obsolescence.

Carl Sagan was the most recognizable scientist in the world at the time of his death. He brought the wonders of science into people’s living rooms. One of the reasons that science is having such a herd time defending itself against the ignorant religious right is the fact that there are not many scientists taking the time to reach out and talk to people. Sagan took the most complex subjects and brought them down to a level that even the most illiterate theist could understand.

Perhaps Sagan’s most enduring gift to humankind was the way he debunked pseudoscience. He was tireless in exposing nonsensical claims and religious dogma. Now, more than ever, we really need someone like Car Sagan. We need someone with the intelligence and the courage to reach out and speak out. Fourteen years after his passing, his words ring as true today as when he first spoke them.

My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts (as well as unable to take such a course of action) if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a traditional god does not exist, our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival. In either case, the enterprise of knowledge is consistent with both science and religion, and is essential for the welfare of the human species.”

Broca’s Brain

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

Pale Blue Dot

The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.

Contact

Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? … No other human institution comes close.

—The Demon-Haunted World

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FFRF 33rd Annual Convention Day 2 Part 2

The Banquet Dinner was set up in the ballroom where the speakers had been. Only, we now had tables. My wife and I found a place to sit and had dinner. To our left was couple from Louisiana and to my right was a couple from Arizona.  The gentleman was a retired doctor and very strong advocate of woman’s rights. We had a great dinner consisting of awesome conversation with fellow freethinkers.

The drawing for “clean” money was fun – no I didn’t win.  Clean money is money produced before 1954 when the United States mint printed “E. Pluribus Unum” instead of the offensive “In God We Trust” which most uneducated right-wing theocrats think was used all along. The foundation had several young people draw the winners – the youngest being only two years old.

After the drawing, Dan Barker and Pulitzer Prize cartoonist Steve Benson provided the evening’s entertainment with “Tunes and Toons.”  Basically it was Steve Benson’s amazing artwork with Dan Barker’s phenomenal piano playing. It also included humorous banter between the two of them.  I can honestly say it as probably the highlight of the evening. Dan’s piano playing always leaves me awestruck. Combine that with an award-winning illustrator and you have Tunes and Toons. The final cartoon was a picture of John Lennon making a peace sign with one of his hands.  The Twin Towers were behind him burning with the smoke rising forming the word “Imagine” in the clouds while Dan played his rendition of John Lennon’s classic Imagine. That image, along with the song, pretty much summed up the weekend.

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FFRF 33rd Annual Convention Day 2 Part 1

Welcome back freethought fans. Day one of the Freedom From Religion National Convention was a really moving and exciting day. But all of that was just a warm up for day two.

Today’s festivities started out with the traditional NonPrayer Breakfast. Sadly we decided to sleep and instead opt for the free breakfast at the Governor’s Club Lounge that our “deluxe” room entitled us to. I did make it for the presentation of the Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award. This year award was presented to Indiana student Eric Workman.

When the presentation started and Eric walked up to receive his award I thought it was going be boring and I started to get up to leave;  however, when he did speak, I was blown away. This brave young man stood up to his entire high school, the school board, all of his peers and even the community, as a whole. There was going to be a Christian prayer at his graduation and he objected to it. He called the ACLU and was the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the school district. It was hell for him and his family. In the end, he won. However, that wasn’t the end of the matter. At his graduation where spoke as valedictorian, he took on the issue and gave a direct affirmation of state and church separation – despite protests from the audience. Talk about bravery.

Later in the morning I attended a presentation by FFRF staff attorneys Rebecca Markert and Patrick Elliot. The amount cases they take on each year is truly astounding. The heart of FFRF is, of course, writing letters and filing lawsuits against those who would try to bring religion into where it does not belong. Their success rate in protecting the constitutional separation of state and church was both enlightening and inspiring.

My wife and I went outside to the framer’s market around the state capitol. It was beautiful fall day. I felt very lucky to be at the steps of the state capitol attending a conference on freedom while purchasing food from local growers and bakers. Afterwards we had a spot of lunch at the hotel and then went back to the conference for the afternoon activities, which would prove to be the best yet.

Julia Sweeney stole the day with her intelligence, charm and wit. We were treated to a reading from her up-and-coming book which she is writing. Some of it was so funny that we literally were crying from laughing so hard. After having seen Letting go of God, her amazing tale of atheist discovery, I can honestly say that Sweeney is one of the best spokespersons for rational thought. Here is someone who was a believer and did everything she could to believe. But the more she tried, the farther removed she became. But, what separates her from others is that she has the unique ability to take a very serious subject and reduce it to a laughable, yet poignant soliloquy. He approach and delivery are both deceptively effective. They work where sometimes harder logic fails. Julia Sweeney solidifies herself as one of our best storytellers.

Next we had Madison cartoonist Mike Konopacki. His presentation was slower and dryer that we would have liked. However, he did acknowledge that after Julia Sweeney, he was going to be a bit of a “downer.” Konopacki basically took Christianity to task with images showing all of the bloodshed that it was responsible for. He created a pamphlet with his artwork juxtaposed against passages in the bible that Christians had used to justify their insidious defamation of humanity

The second Emperor Has No Clothes Award was given to Cenk Uygur. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali the night before, Cenk is a maverick who has made a stand to expose religion for what it is. He delivered a riveting, humorous, tirade against the inconsistencies and offensive nonsense of all major religions. He also went on to point out that all of the horrors currently committed by the faithful demands a response and challenged everyone present to fight the religious with logic, reason, and truth whenever the opportunity presents itself. For example, the bible clearly states that you should never eat shellfish. So, whenever you get the chance, you should ask a Christian or a Jew if they really don’t eat shrimp and what issue their god has with eating shrimp.

Cenk is the host of The Young Turks, the largest on-line news show in the world. Even though is audience is huge, he was able communicate at a level that everyone could relate to. A very powerful and intellectually motivated speaker, he really empowered the audience.

That’s it for now.

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FFRF 33rd Annual Convention Day 1

Greetings freethought fans.  I’m here at the Freedom From Religion’s 33rd Annual Convention. About 700 of us are gathered at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison Wisconsin.

Last night the opening ceremony included a wonderful video message from Wisconsin Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton. Lawton gave a very positive and powerful welcome thanking FFRF for all of it’s work. Lawton is a big proponent of state and church separation. She, no doubt, has received a lot of flack from acknowledging a “heathen” group. Kudos to her!

Journalist Linda Greenhouse gave a very interesting speach about the Supreme Court and rulings regarding separation issues. Greenhouse, a brilliant author and journalist has been covering the Supreme Court of 30 years. Her talk was enlightening.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Emperor Has No Clothes Award. This year presented to author /activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali gave an absolutely wonderful and highly moving acceptance speech. She gave a moving and telling account of her trials and the trials of women, in general, in Muslim countries. As she recounted the actual fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. She is the little child at the end, of course, that tells the truth and exposes the emperor as actually having no clothes. What’s fascinating is that as a young child growing up with a reform Jewish education, I too was exposed the fable. However, the Jewish religion had hijacked the fable for it’s own self-serving purposes. You see I was taught that the little boy was actually a Jew exposing the Christian believers and their god as false. The Jewish god is the only god and Hans Christian Andersen wrote the fable to illustrate that. For many years I grew up actually believing that lie. Now, as an adult atheist, it gives me great satisfaction to hear this wonderful fable understood as it was meant to be understood. Courageous pioneers like Hirsi Ali are indeed the deserving recipients of awards like the Emperor Has No Clothes Award. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a beautiful, articulate, engaging individual who is a credit to all women and freethinkers everywhere. Her speech brought many present to tears with her lucid antidotes.

At the book signing which followed her speech, my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Hirsi Ali. It was an honor.

The first day was really entertaining and educational.  More later.

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