The Reason Rally is being held on Saturday. It will be a great opportunity for Nontheists need to show our growing numbers, on a public stage, as a counter to the religious privilege we have to deal with every day in our local, state, and national government. However in a big write up on the event at CNN, the organizers seemed to be diluting the chief idea behind the rally – celebrating our nontheism. It seems like they missed an opportunity to be more direct in, I guess, a futile effort to change the minds of people who hate us anyway.
I support the rally 100% and even donated to it even if I couldn’t attend myself. I love the idea of the rally and the reasons behind it.
But then I read the article posted on the CNN website this week (which was a big deal itself). Instead of coming away ramped up with the publicity, I was disappointed that Lyz Liddell, the rally’s executive director, seemed to be avoiding the fact that the rally was for nontheists.
Here is a portion of the article that concerned me:
The rally’s major issues of focus are climate change, reproductive rights and LGBT equality, all hotly contested political topics whose opposing voices often come from the religious right.
But while organizers hope to distance religion from the conversation, the rally’s attendees and speakers include people of faith, notably such legislators as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
“It would be great if we get proportionate representation in Congress, but we are being represented by religious members of Congress and we want to work with them. We want to be heard by them.” said Liddell.
The last Reason Rally, held in 2012, may have had a much more excluding vibe, Liddell said. “Some of our speakers were anti-theists and anti-religion.”
This year, she said, the focus has shifted to secularism. “We need to ally with people who share our goals. It’s not an ‘atheist vs religious people’ conversation.”
Wow. I personally know Lyz Liddell. She IS “a widely respected freethought activist and organizer” and did excellent work with the Secular Student Alliance so I know her heart is in the right place, but her comments about 2012 are disappointing.
Yes the 2012 Rally did exclude people. It excluded people who weren’t non-theists. It wasn’t an interfaith or interpath event it was a nontheist event.
This attempt to hide from being atheists or from being so-called “mean” atheists reminds me of white friends of mine telling me they have no issues with black people as long as they aren’t “those kind” of black people.
The problem is there will be a guest or two or three on Saturday who will mock and ridicule religion. I bet someone will even shout to the crowd “Religion Sucks. Believers are morons” or words to that effect.
Telling the press that you want to be more “inclusive” by throwing the mean people under the bus may make a good sound bite, if you are selling a generic product like foot powder.
Doing it in the media before a major rally for atheists dilutes your brand and message by letting those who oppose our values to frame us.
Another problem with trying to play word games for PR is right on the front page of the rally’s website (emphasis mine):
Speak Up for Reason!
If you know that you can be a good person without believing in a god …
If you think public policy should be based on scientific evidence, not religious beliefs …
If you support the separation of church and state …
… then join us for the biggest gathering of nonreligious people in history!
This is what happens when you try to dilute your atheism with a term like “Secular”, not to mention calling your rally for atheists “The Reason Rally”. It’s obvious it’s being used to hide the focus on atheism, to make the group or event more “palatable” to the general public, and yet won’t change the minds of people who hate us already.
I’m not suggesting the rally should be a religion bashfest but our hands shouldn’t be tied because the organizers want the event to look less threatening.
Think of it this way.
What if this was an LGBT pride parade and in an effort to look “less threatening” the organizers required changing the words of the classic protest chant “We’re Queer – We’re Here – Get use to it…” to “We’ve chosen an alternative lifestyle, We’re Here, Tolerate Us!”
If I were LGBT, I would probably be cringing over being framed by those who dislike LGBT people. I have to feel uncomfortable because someone with different views feels uncomfortable?
If it had been me being interviewed by CNN, about the rally, it might go something like this:
CNN: So the groups sponsoring this rally are atheists?
Doug: Most of us don’t believe in a god, we also have freethinkers, Humanists, and other nontheists involved.
CNN: Atheists hate religion and religious people, right?
Doug: Hate is a strong word. We don’t think that religious beliefs are a proper method to base public policy like civil rights or climate change. Religion has been known to cause problems like FGM and honor killings but many religious people do agree with us on the need for a clear separation of church and state. The ACLU was founded by religious believers and most cases to defend the separation of church and state are brought by people of faith.
CNN: The rally held in 2012 included a lot of mocking and ridicule of religion. How do you intend to work with the religious on your common issues?
Doug: The rally is for the nontheist and many of them have strong feelings about religion. I think a more important issue is how some religious people who claim to want to protect women and children could march on Washington recently demanding that there be no abortions allowed. Why aren’t they asked how they will work with secular people?
The point being is to accept there are all kinds of people in the atheist movement who have different views on religion, make clear the reason for the rally is to show our growing numbers, and stop letting the opposition frame the discussion.
I just get tired of this atheism avoidance game some of the big groups play. The Reason Rally isn’t the only one. The Secular Student Alliance plays up the “secular” in their name yet in the details they publish to the public makes it clear the group is for and about nontheistic students and The Secular Coalition for America made a point, as mentioned in the CNN post, that it hired a lapsed Christian as the new executive director.
I totally understand why they all try to be so middle of the road but it also frustrates me that even as they claim atheism needs to be taken seriously as a movement (like putting on a large public rally), they refuse to march out front as atheists.
We should be doing better than that by now.
Also published on Medium.