Atheist Student Questioned By Police For Being an Atheist

This is a guest post by Harrison Hopkins, president and founder of the Secular Student Alliance at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, also known for stopping the graduation prayer at his high school.

A week and a half ago during our Spring Break, my school, Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC, was one of several schools in the immediate area to receive “threatening letters” from an anonymous source. While the specifics of these letters have yet to be released to the public, the responses from faculty, staff, and the local police seem consistent with those of generic bomb threats. More on that can be read on WYFF4 and WSPA.

The Sunday before classes resumed, I made a post on Facebook in response to seeing several people express their worry over returning to school. In it, I outlined three points that made it seem, to me at least, that the threats were not as serious as people thought.

The next morning as I head to class my dad sends me a text, “Call me ASAP.” I do, only to find out that the police had been at our house looking for me. Two hours later they succeed and are waiting outside of my New Testament class. We talk, and agree that after I get my sandwich (there were only thirty minutes left in the meal period), I would come to the police station and allow them to question me.

The questioning was… interesting, to say the least. They started by asking why I felt it was not as big of a deal and from there went on to ask if I could give them names of five people that would be potentially capable of doing something like this. When I refused several times, the method changed to one person that I felt would be completely incapable of doing this. That would be everyone, so I again refused.

After this, they started asking about my involvement on campus. My two biggest involvements are with Secular Student Alliance at Presbyterian College and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, so naturally they had to ask about those. Specifically how many members each group had, if I could give the names of any members, and fun questions as well, such as “Don’t you think it’s weird that as an atheist you go to Presbyterian College?” and “Are you a… homosexual?”

As I was being questioned, I noticed a paper that was sticking out of the stack that was on the table. It was upside down and a bit away, but it was obviously an email… the email that was sent to the sheriff as a tip. I was finally able to make out what it said.

“Just a thought, but have you looked into the members of the freedom of religion group at Presbyterian college?”

After working this out, I asked about it, which launched one of the questioners into an explanation that it wasn’t because of my beliefs (or lack thereof) that I was being questioned, but simply because they were following up every single tip they could. That would be completely understandable, were it not for the fact that the tip only came in because I am an atheist, or that the questioner seemed to insinuate that I was a part of some anarchist front, asking if I had any harsh feeling against the government, the police, or any of the local schools, and just what my political standings are.

They would not let me read the email itself, but did let me know that it seemed to be written by someone older and conservative who knew me before I arrived at PC, specifically through my complaints against school prayer in high school. In two weeks, I plan on filing a Freedom of Information Act request to see the email itself.

As of now, I’m a bit angry. To think that someone would feel that we would be capable or even have some sort of connection to the letters simply because of our atheism? This is the first time that I have experienced this sort of discrimination on this scale. I’m angry about this, but I also see it as just further reason to keep pushing forward, to help dispel these misconceptions that so many people tend to hold.

Greta Speaking in Rossmoor/ Walnut Creek, March 21

Hi, all! I have a speaking gig coming up this week in the San Francisco Bay Area: in Rossmoor, which is in Walnut Creek in Contra Costa County. My topic: “Resistance Is Not Futile: Is Arguing About Religion Worth It?” Rossmoor is a gated retirement community, but the event is open to the public, and is free.

CITY: Walnut Creek, CA
DATE: Thursday, March 21
TIME: 2:00 pm
LOCATION: Las Trampas Room, Hillside Clubhouse, Rossmoor Community, Walnut Creek, CA
DIRECTIONS: Rossmoor is off Tice Valley Blvd. in Walnut Creek. Keep left at the gate house. Tell the gate man you are attending a club meeting at the Hillside Clubhouse. After the gate, turn next right onto Golden Rain Road. Go 0.5 mile. Up hill and down dale. Turn left onto LOWER Golden Rain Road. Go 0.4 mile. Entrance for parking is on the left, just after the lawn bowling field. We will be in the Las Trampas Room.
EVENT/ HOSTS: Atheists and Agnostics Group in Rossmoor
TOPIC: Resistance Is Not Futile: Is Arguing About Religion Worth It?
SUMMARY: Many atheists think that trying to persuade people out of religion never works, and simply alienates people. But debating believers about their beliefs can be effective — in changing people’s minds about religion, as well as in achieving other goals of the atheist community. When does it makes sense to debate about religion? How should we go about it? And what should our expectations be for what these debates can accomplish?
COST: Free and open to the public

Hope to see you there!

Runway Recap: Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love

How do you make men look sexy?

This week’s Project Runway challenge: Make performance wear for the Thunder From Down Under male stripper group. It was a difficult challenge for a lot of reasons: making men’s wear is always hard on designers who mostly make women’s wear, what with the different body shapes and all. Add to that the fact that they had to make, not just men’s wear, but men’s wear that was both stretchy enough and durable enough for vigorous stage performance… while still having enough structure to not look like pajamas. Add to that the fact that the outfits weren’t just dance wear, but stripper wear, and they had to tear away easily and completely at a moment’s notice. Add to that the fact that the men they were making clothes for had giant muscled beefcake bodies, with huge chests and arms: bodies that were far from ordinary, and that are unusually hard to fit.

But then, in addition to all that, add this challenge:

How do you make men look sexy?

Specifically, how do you make men look sexy in a heterosexual context? (As far as I’m aware, Thunder From Down Under aim their performances primarily at women.)

In a sexual culture where women are assumed to be the objects of desire and men are assumed to be the subjects, where women are expected to be looked at and men are expected to do the looking, it’s very difficult to make men look blatantly sexy. In a heterosexual context, anyway. It’s one of the main reasons that men’s wear is so often such a snoozefest. The very act of trying to look sexy, the very act of trying to make one’s body and one’s self look sexually desirable, is seen as a feminine act. (Or a gay act. More on that in a sec.) It’s a weird double bind/ balancing act: straight men are supposed to look good, or not look like slobs anyway, but they’re not supposed to look like they’re trying, or like they care.

There are, as I said in my original piece on men’s wear, some exceptions to this: the historical costuming community, the kink community, some others. And gay men have largely untied this knot and re-woven it into a sexual culture where everyone gets to be both gazer and gazee, mutual objects and subjects, in turn or simultaneously. (A somewhat problematic sexual culture, if my gay male friends are to be believed, in which a high premium is often placed on fitting into one of a handful of ideals of male sexuality and attractiveness, many of which are hyper-masculine in their own way — but still, one in which men can openly express their sexuality and their desire to be desirable, without it being seen as undercutting their masculinity.)

But the very fact that gay male culture has embraced the conscious display of male sexuality and created a space for it makes it harder for men to do in a heterosexual context. Given the homophobia of our culture, anyway. Looking sexy and trying to make your body look sexually desirable is seen as something that either women do or that gay men do — and since our culture is both so sexist and so homophobic, straight men are strongly discouraged from doing anything that would make them seem gay, or feminine, or both. I find it very telling that the usual route for male strippers in a heterosexual context is to go hyper-masculine: super beefcakey, huge muscled chests, huge muscled biceps, often in costumes that represent iconically male roles, from construction workers to cowboys to suits and ties. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this hyper-masculinity is done to offset the automatic feminization that comes in our culture with sexual display. (Not consciously, I don’t think, but still.)

So of all the challenges this season, this should absolutely not have been a one-day challenge. The designers had to make clothing for unfamiliar bodies — unfamiliar because of gender, and unfamiliar because of huge muscled beefcake-ness. They had to make said clothing work as stretchy and durable stagewear. They had to make said clothing with a design spec that they almost certainly had never dealt with before — namely, making the clothes tear away in a second. And apart from all these technical challenges, they had to face a serious conceptual challenge: making men look conventionally sexy in a conventionally heterosexual context, displaying their sexuality without undercutting their masculinity, maintaining their masculinity without being a bore.

In this, of all challenges, the designers should have had an extra day. Nobody — not the judges, not the producers, nobody — should have been surprised that this week was such a universally miserable and laughable fail-fest.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Daniel and Patricia [Read more...]

Runway Recap: But What Do You Mean By “Prom Dress”?

There’s this basic problem with certain design challenges: on Project Runway, and in life.

The problem is when people don’t give you clear specifications for what they want — and then judge you for not having accomplished it.

This week’s PR challenge (okay, last week’s, I was on a speaking tour last week and only watched last week’s episode last night): Design a prom dress out of duct tape. This challenge wasn’t invented out of the fevered imaginations of the Project Runway producers: it’s riffing off of an existing phenomenon. Do a Google image search on “duct tape prom dress.” You’ll find zillions of them. This is a thing.

So okay. Make a prom dress out of duct tape. Straightforward enough. Except when you get to the question: What do you mean by “prom dress”?

If you do a Google Image search of “prom dress” — minus the “duct tape,” or indeed with it — you’ll find a ridiculous variety of styles. You’ll find dresses inspired (apparently) by storybook princesses, and movie stars on red carpets, and music video vixens, and beauty pageants, and saloon girls, and national costumes, and va-va-voom screen sirens, and science fiction/fantasy, and Elizabethan costume, and Victoria’s Secret. You’ll see huge billowing Cinderella ball gowns and slinky strappy things with leg slits up to here; fluffy little cocktail dresses and short tight shiny numbers that look like the Kardashians on a bad night. It varies by region, by class, by (I’m guessing) trends within a particular school, by the imagination or lack thereof of the girls wearing the dresses. Pretty much, the only common theme among them all is “fantasy life of teenage girls.”

So when you’re a designer, and the concept you’re given is “prom dress made out of duct tape,” you don’t actually have much to go on. All you really have is “festive, special-event dress for someone around age 18.”

So it’s kind of ridiculous for the PR judges to scold designers for creating a look that isn’t “prom.” Scold them for ugly; scold them for poorly-fitting; scold them for deranged; scold them for boring. But don’t scold them for not being prom. There is no template, no iconic ur-prom-dress. You have an idea in your head of what a prom dress should look like? Good for you. So do millions of teenage girls around the country. For once, you’re not the expert here. I don’t care if you’re a renowned high-fashion designer or fashion editor. You’re not the expert.

So. On to the designs.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 7 Amanda and Michelle 1 [Read more...]

Foundation Beyond Belief Raises Record Funds to Fight Cancer – And They’re Doing It Again!

Hey, this is cool. On lots of levels.

You know the Foundation Beyond Belief, the humanist charitable organization supporting charities around the world? You know how last year, they organized a massive fundraising effort for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through their Light the Night Walks? It was a thumping success.

In our first year, we raised $430,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the largest amount ever raised by a first year non-corporate team and the 4th largest amount raised by any team in the nation in 2012, including corporate teams. Freethinkers across the US and Canada formed 150 local teams.

They’re doing it again this year:

I am incredibly excited to announce our involvement for a second year that, with your help, is going to continue to have an enormous positive impact both on our movement and in the fight against cancer. Foundation Beyond Belief is a “Special Friend” team partner with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) for their Light The Night Walks. Our goal this year is to unite the Freethought Movement around the world to raise $500.000 U.S. Dollars in 2013.

Last year, their International Team Honored Hero was Christopher Hitchens. This year, their honored hero is…

… me.

The 2013 International Team Honored Hero is Greta Christina. Greta is author of “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless,” and one of the most popular atheist bloggers. She is a regular atheist correspondent for AlterNet, Free Inquiry, and The Humanist, and writes at Greta Christina’s Blog (now part of the Freethought Blogs network) since 2005. In 2012, Greta Christina was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She was fortunate in getting the cancer caught early: she was treated with surgical hysterectomy and oophorectomy, and is now cancer-free. She has a presumptive diagnosis of Lynch Syndrome (a diagnosis based on family history), which significantly increases the odds of getting certain kinds of cancers, including endometrial and colon.

Walkers and teams are encouraged to use Greta as their own Honored Hero as well as choose people from their family or community afflicted by cancer to walk for. Walkers and teams may choose as many Honored Heroes as they wish and can share them with us here:

I’ll be writing more about this when I’m not on the road. For now, I’ll just say that I am hugely touched. If you want to participate with the Foundation Beyond Belief in the Light the Night Walk, here’s how to do it. Let’s show the world just how good we can be without God!

Protest U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Friday March 8

This is a guest post from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Servicemember Civil Rights Organization Blasts U.S. Air Force Academy for Circulating Offensive Anti-Gay and Sexist Religious Material. Protest to be held Friday, March 8, 2013 at 11:00 AM on the corner of Academy Blvd and Voyager Parkway, COLORADO SPRINGS. Food, beverages, signage, and security will be provided. PDF of flyer for the event is available for download.

Protest-Rally-Flyer

On Friday, March 8, 2013, Colorado Springs will be the scene of a protest rally led by celebrated civil rights activist and church and state separation advocate Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF; www.mrff.org).

MRFF is a five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominated civil rights foundation that represents over 32,000 active duty servicemembers and armed forces veteran clients, 96% of whom are Christians. According to MRFF, “The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is promoting a reprehensible, homophobic, and sexist religious website to its entire faculty, staff, and cadet wing. Even after [MRFF exposed] this noxious act, USAFA leadership have steadfastly refused to remove the link from their website!”

SIGNIFICANT BACKGROUND

The website in question is “Judaism 101,” or www.jewfaq.org, which bills itself as an “online encyclopedia of Judaism.” While the website contains information about various Jewish holidays, content on the site also indicates virulently homophobic and misogynistic prejudices presented as mainstream “traditional” Judaism. MRFF sprang into action after being contacted by numerous USAFA cadets, faculty members, and staff, including 21 lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) personnel who reached out to MRFF after links to the site were circulated in a “Notice to Airmen” (NOTAM) of Religious Accommodations.

According to Weinstein, “an equivalent move would be to link the descriptions of Christian holidays… to the website of Pastor Fred Phelps’ utterly despicable Westboro Baptist Church! The material… includes suggestions that homosexual males should be put to death as per the Torah. Additionally, it includes a speciously hideous comparison of the originating cause of homosexuality to that of kleptomania. This disgrace is an open slap in the face to all lesbian, gay, and bisexual USAFA cadets, faculty, and staff. Additionally, the website contains the absurd and perverse notion that males who masturbate should have their hands chopped off.”

Additionally, the website states that women’s social status under Judaism is that they are “separate but equal,” a statement that typically stipulates the polar opposite of any modern, democratic conception of “equality.”

This incident isn’t the first time that Weinstein has blasted the religious and social climate at USAFA. Weinstein asserts that today’s military has been transformed into a stomping ground for evangelical, fundamentalist Christians who have created an intolerable, unconstitutional climate of religious oppression for fellow members. These conditions, which have included (but are not limited to) mandatory “Spiritual Fitness Tests” and coerced attendance of Christian prayer ceremonies and Christian rock concerts, have resulted in spiritual torment for religious minorities as well as those who are not considered the “right kind of Christian.” In many cases, servicemembers have been subject to physical harm and brutal incidents of hazing as a result of their sexual orientation, gender identity, professed faith, or lack thereof.

MRFF claims that supernatural theological concepts and a “Clash of Civilizations,” “us vs. them” apocalyptic ideology have fatally tainted military doctrine and warped good order, discipline, and servicemember morale. Weinstein notes that fundamentalist “Crusader” Christian fanaticism mirrors the militant jihadist extremism of those whom the U.S. military is fighting in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. MRFF advocacy has given broad international media exposure to many egregious, unconstitutional violations including “Jesus Rifles,” the nickname given to the widely deployed government-contracted riflescopes engraved with Bible verses which were used in Afghanistan and Iraq. MRFF also exposed the ‘Jesus Loves Nukes’ formal indoctrination; a grotesque mandatory USAF training program for Air Force Nuclear Missile Launch Officers that used a perverse brand of “Christian Just War” theory and New Testament biblical citations, including the Book of Revelations, to establish a theological justification for the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilian populations.

MIKEY WEINSTEIN BIOGRAPHY

In addition to being the president of MRFF, Mikey Weinstein is an attorney, businessman, and former Air Force Officer. Mikey is a 1977 Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He is the proud parent of two sons and one daughter. His oldest son and daughter-in-law are 2004 USAFA Graduates, Mikey’s youngest son graduated from the Academy in the Class of 2007, and his son-in-law is a 2010 graduate from USAFA as well. Seven total members of Mikey’s family have attended the Academy. Weinstein also has the hard-fought distinction of having been a former White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan and General Counsel to two-time Presidential candidate and Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot. In November 2011, Americans United for Separation of Church and State honored him as their first-ever “Person of the Year.” In December 2012 Mikey Weinstein Named to the List of 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense by Defense News, a Gannett publication.

MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA ARE INVITED TO ATTEND – DETAILS BELOW – INTERVIEWS AVAILABLE WITH MIKEY WEINSTEIN

The protest will take place on Friday, March 8, 2013 at 11:00 AM on the corner of Academy Blvd and Voyager Parkway, near IHOP. Food, beverages, signage, and security will be provided. The event will coincide with International Women’s Day. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation calls on those who stand for religious tolerance as well as sex and gender equality to make a stand and demonstrate for this important cause. For more information, please go to www.MRFF.org.

Runway Recap: Aging Out

So since last week’s Runway Recap was all about one of my most loaded, most complicated, most compelling fashion topics — namely, fashion and size — I suppose it’s only fair that this week’s should hit one of my other gigantic hot buttons:

Fashion and age.

For this season’s “real woman” challenge (serious air-quotes, I hate hate hate that phrase), Project Runway did something they’ve never done, and it’s about high fucking time they did: They asked the designers to design for old women. Each client had a different design request — one wanted something comfortable, one wanted something festive and celebratory, one wanted something dressy she could wear on cruises, etc. But for all of the designers, the basic challenge was the same: Make something for your client that’s beautiful and exciting and fashion-forward… and also age-appropriate.

Which is really fucking hard.

I’ve written before about how hard it is to say “sexy older woman” in the metaphorical language of fashion… not because the words and grammar aren’t there, but because our culture considers the very concept of “sexy woman over fifty” to be nonsense. I’ve written before about the whole question of what it even means to be “age appropriate” in the first place, and whether the very notion is ageist and oppressive, or whether it’s a way to express love and respect for your age, or whether it’s some of both. And as a fifty-one year old woman who cares deeply about fashion and sex and feminism and ageism… this is not an abstract point for me. This is a paradox I live every day of my life in. It sometimes drives me up a tree that I started getting seriously interested in fashion in my late forties, right when fashion was losing interest in me. (Of course, as someone who was fat for much of her adult life, fashion has never been all that interested in me… so there’s that.)

And since “age and fashion” is so loaded, not just because of how fashion is designed, but because of how fashion is criticized, I want to spend more time than usual this week talking, not just about the designs, but about the judging.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 6 Stanley [Read more...]