The classic model of U.S. atheist activism is the strict maintenance of church-state separation. Keep creationism out of classrooms. Keep prayer out of government meetings and government money out of the hands of churches. Keep crosses off public land.
This is worthwhile activism. Having ancestors who were kicked out of Massachusetts for being the wrong kind of Baptist and watching atheists across the globe pay for their lack of belief with their freedoms and their lives, I understand just how critical a strong wall of separation is. However, this kind of activism is just the very basics.
If you have a weak or small atheist movement, keeping the government from falling under religious control will necessarily be your first and maybe your only priority. This was the case in the U.S. for decades. It isn’t anymore.
The atheist movement has grown at an amazing rate in recent years. That’s not surprising. Recent numbers from the Pew foundation say there are more of us than there are Mormons. If they can run a state and two presidential candidates in the last election, we have the numbers to make things happen–more things than just conducting lawsuits, things that affect most people’s daily lives far more than one of these lawsuits will.
When religion is this pervasive and entrenched, it contributes to problems in every sphere. When religion holds as much power as it does, it plays a large role in maintaining the injustices of the status quo. On tonight’s panel are several atheist activists who are working on problems well beyond church-state separation. Their work brings them into communities frequently invisible in organized atheism–communities in which atheism is often invisible or unthinkable.
Yet there they are, because there is meaningful, necessary work to be done. And they join us tonight to help us understand how to move atheist activism outside the narrow confines of the court and make it relevant to the rest of the world.
This is my introduction to tonight’s panel at DePaul University with Sikivu Hutchinson, Anthony Pinn, Ian Cromwell, and Ashley Miller. If you’re in the area, don’t forget to come out. There will be socializing afterward as well.