Be a Hero in Less Than Five Minutes

July 26, 2012

You can stand up for freedom of conscience without any danger to yourself—indeed without breaking a sweat. You can help someone who is being unjustly persecuted without leaving the comfort of your chair. You can advance the cause of freethought internationally without spending a dime. You can be a hero in less than five minutes. Here’s how.

You can sign the petition asking the Obama administration to make a formal protest to the Indonesian government on Alexander Aan's behalf. 

This is a petition that will get noticed provided we obtain sufficient signatures. The advantage of the White House petition process is that if your petition obtains 25,000 signatures within thirty days, you are guaranteed some sort of formal reply to your petition.  Of course, that means a petition must obtain about 1,000 signatures a day.  Currently, the Aan petition is up to about 5,000 signatures.  The signature period closes on August 16.

I would hope by now most of you are familiar with the Alexander Aan case, but in any event, the concise summary of his situation is this: he is a thirty-year-old civil servant in Indonesia who in January posted on his Facebook page the statement "God doesn't exist."  He was beaten by a mob and thereafter arrested.  (Right, he was arrested, not anyone in the mob.)  In June, he was convicted of inciting religious hatred, with the trial court citing the fact that he had also linked to two cartoons of Mohammed.  He was sentenced to thirty months in prison.  More information about him and about the situation in Indonesia can be found in this Guardian article (note that this was published pre-conviction).

This petition is a critical issue for the secular community.  It is effectively a test of whether we freethinkers are willing to invest a small amount of time to stand up for our principles and assist someone who is being persecuted for expressing his skepticism of religion. If anything is a core value to us, presumably it is the freedom to say, “I am an atheist.”

Much chest-thumping has taken place recently about the growth of the nonreligious community.  If this growth is actually happening, I am obviously pleased by it.  Scratch that—I’m thrilled by it. However, if the secular community cannot muster a measly 25,000 signatures (roughly the number of people who attend a Joel Osteen event) in support of a petition for freedom of conscience, I am not sure this growth is worth much.  Millions of atheists, but only 5,000 concerned enough about the freedom to be an atheist to sign a petition? Maybe the survey numbers indicating a growth in the nonreligious population merely herald an age of indifference as opposed to a secular awakening. 

Prove that I’m wrong to be pessimistic. In fact, if you have not yet signed the petition stop reading this post NOW. Get your fingers on over to the White House site and sign the petition. Being a hero may never again be this easy.