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07 October, 2012

Freethought Day

Yesterday was Freethought Day at the Ben Ali Shrine Center in Sacramento. It was an outdoor event with student, humanist, atheist and political groups tabling and various booths with different authors and entertainers. There was a large stage and seating area where speakers presented. It was a lovely California day, about 75° and sunny.

My husband and I arrived around noon and wandered around. I met David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: TenTen Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All. He is a very nice man with a great sense of humor. He wore his shirt, "PhD in Heresy," to the event.

Wandering around a bit more, waiting for my friend Sarah, who was meeting us there with her parents, we got a look at The Brick Bible, which I had heard a lot about, but had never seen.

We listened to a poignant talk by Rebecca Hensler of Grief Beyond Belief. Some of you may know that over the last year both Chris and I have lost our grandmothers. It was good to hear that there is a group out there for people who are tired of being told that our loved ones that we miss so much are still floating around, able to see us but forbidden from letting us know, as if some prank were being played on mortals all the time.

We heard an impassioned talk by Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who made clear that he was there with security and that he and his party were armed due to the threats that his organization and family receive regularly. He explained how the most powerful military in the world is full of extremist, right-wing Christians who believe it will be their job to fight for Jesus come judgement day. Their loyalties are not to protect the Constitution or the rights of US citizens, but to the Bible and the religion in which they've been brainwashed and the leaders of our militaries prop up and support this mentality.

What struck me as interesting is that Mr. Weinstein didn't begrudge the fact that he had to be armed. He never said, "We're in fear constantly." He made clear that he asks for no pity for the necessity to carry firearms and have a security entourage. It's as if he's answered the threats with, "I fucking dare you, you bastards -- you'll be dead before you realize your mistake." It was very empowering. He was also clear that he will not stop, his organization will continue to grow, and the religious extremists hiding behind the uniform will have no choice but to lessen their hold on our guns and missiles.

My friend showed up at that point and we did some more mingling. I talked to the SacFAN group about my Davis Area FreeThinkers idea and they told me to create a topic in their meetup and see if anyone else is interested in a Davis meetup.

We met Mr. Deity, Brian Dalton, who was extremely charming and nice. He spoke shortly after on stage about the show, how to get DVD's and some projects in the works that will include Richard Dawkins and others.

We stayed in our seats for the talk by Chris Lombardi of the Secular Coalition for America. SCA is trying to create lobbying groups in each of the fifty states right now. Politically and financially, non-believers are one of the least represented groups in Washington. Slowly but surely, SCA is bringing freethinking organizations together to change that. Sadly, he explained that the SCA can't touch the topic of abortion unless there is some kind of church-state separation issue. The sexual reproduction rights of women is a concept born of religion in my opinion, but I understand that if whatever state or area attempting to ban abortion isn't explicitly endorsing religion as a reason for the ban, the SCA can't get involved due to the nature of their organization. Still, it stings a little.

We took a break for some refreshments and came back to hear Jessica Ahlquist tell her story, which was amazing. There was a man behind us who yelled, "Thank you for doing that!" a couple of times and I wanted to tell him to knock it off. Hecklers, even supportive ones, need to shut up and let people talk. He got more than a few judgmental glances from people who turned their heads to look at him the second time he shouted.  Jessica took it in stride and told the rest of her story without a hitch.

I had to go up and thank her at the end and let her know that ten years ago, no one at my school was an out atheist. There were no atheist clubs and a lawsuit like hers would have been unimaginable, and this is in California. Her bravery is inspiring.

I'd also like to mention the Mockingbirds, a local atheist choir group. They all had beautiful voices and sang fun songs about Darwin, freethought and the absence of faith. I will definitely be checking the SacFAN meetup page for future performances.

All in all, it was a great day and went off without a hitch. I'm looking forward to more events like it.

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