The Course of Reason

Put away yo dollar bills.

June 29, 2012

The cause of secularism in the United States is one about which most of us in “the movement” feel passionate. Religious dogma poisons LGBT equality and attempts to set back rights for women. Prayer at public high school commencements and nativity scenes on town hall front lawns send the message to non-believers and those of other faiths that they are institutionally undervalued. “In God We Trust” on our money and “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are minor, yet lingering reminders that atheism is looked on with disdain by many Americans.

Yet we cannot be satisfied with only fighting injustice in our own country. It’s easier, for sure. We have the power to take to the polls, to lobby our legislators, to write to our local papers in hopes that change can actually be made.

But in comparison to many other countries, our fights are miniscule. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t important—small progress is still progress—but we cannot, as a movement, continue to let international issues take a backseat.

I’m not setting any sort of example. Even in my personal political interests, I tend to focus much more heavily on domestic issues rather than those of nations abroad. However, I’ve been inspired to try to change.

This past weekend at the Center for Inquiry Leadership Conference, campus outreach coordinator Debbie Goddard discussed how CFI On Campus has a history of making an impact not just in the U.S. and Canada, but in all parts of the world. One particularly noteworthy example is how in Nigeria, a secular humanist group is helping children who are being disowned by their families because they are being accused of witchcraft.

I was delighted to hear that a group existed in Nigeria that was helping these children, but I was also appalled: first, because this injustice was happening, and second, because I didn’t know this was happening. I know people who cross out the phrase “In God We Trust” on their money but I didn’t know that in Nigeria, witchcraft accusations were threatening lives.

Again, that’s not to say that getting “In God We Trust” off our money isn’t important, but what kind of humanist values does it demonstrate to ignore serious injustice just because we’re not forced to confront it every day?

I will own up to my ignorance, as I think one should, but I don’t believe that our movement’s relative disregard for international issues is entirely our fault.

Have you heard of Alexander Aan? He’s a 30 year old atheist in Indonesia who has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for posting “God doesn’t exist” and links to blasphemous Muhammad cartoons on his Facebook profile. If you have, that’s great. If you haven’t, who can blame you? The mainstream media has almost entirely ignored the issue. I wouldn’t have known about it had I not recently signed up for the CFI Office of Public Policy action alerts, which were introduced to me as a tool only after becoming an intern.

My hope is that enough people are angered, offended, and moved by Aan’s arrest to spread the word. With abysmal media coverage, we, “the movement,” must take it upon ourselves to set an example of what it means to have humanist values and to put those values into action. Though we cannot affect the kind of direct change we can with a domestic issue like school prayer or access to contraception, we can post on Facebook, we can write to political leaders, we can attend protests, and we can-of course-blog about it. With seemingly every big name blogger weighing in on whatever in-fighting is taking place that week-however important the issue might be-I would hope that more people raise awareness of a prisoner of conscience.

With all of the problems religious dogma causes in the world, we can’t expect to give every single issue the attention it deserves. But all I argue is that when it’s something as unjust as imprisonment for free expression, we put down our Sharpies, put away our dollar bills, and look beyond our U.S. border.



About the Author: Stef McGraw

Stef McGraw's photo
Stef McGraw is a Campus and Community Organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She has degrees in philosophy and Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa, where she first got involved in the freethought movement through the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers


#1 Paul the Morning Heretic on Friday June 29, 2012 at 11:33am

This is great, Stef.

#2 Dylan Garcia (Guest) on Friday June 29, 2012 at 12:53pm

Nicely done. I too felt the same when Goddard opened my eyes to very serious international problems that we should try to attend to.

#3 Kitty Hundal aka Trance Gemini (Guest) on Wednesday July 04, 2012 at 4:09pm

Great blog Stef. It's beautiful to hear a rational and intelligent voice amongst Freethinking women. It seems I missed all of the action last year and just wanted to know that you certainly have my support. Wish I'd known what was going on so I could have been out there to support you.

Best wishes,





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