I broke my rule on entering my own name in the Google search engine this week.  People from childhood friends to people more recently acquainted and made part of my life collectively clutched the pearls and asked, “Jamila, what happened? How did YOU get to talk at CPAC?  Have they looked at anything you’ve ever said?”

Let’s start at the beginning.

I sit on the board of American Atheists.  They are the rights organization dedicated to the separation of State and church founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair. They’re brash and smart. And they listen when I talk.  (Come to the convention this April in Memphis.  It’s going to be a great time!)

Last year, AA had a booth at CPAC, because using the phrase my friend Greta Christina taught me, cheering to the pep squad isn’t what the organization had in mind.  AA was interested in reaching out to like minds in a place atheists aren’t often found.  Also, AA President David Silverman wanted to attack the notion that conservatism and Christianity are one in the same.  David’s use of the word “attack” was reported and quickly raised the ire of CPAC 2014 leadership. The group pulled American Atheist’s booth in the convention hall and argued that AA was only interested in being disruptive to the event. This wasn’t the intent at all in what AA was doing! We simply wanted to get in front of the ten thousand or so attendees at the event and be seen.  David, Public Relations Director of American Atheists, Danielle Muscato, and I paid the attendee rate and stood a hotel corridor and handed out buttons and the cards that would have been displayed at the yanked booth.

So this year, David the tenacious, again tried to register a booth at the conference.  And a meeting was called.  Dan Schneider, the Executive Director of the American Conservative Union, sat down with David Silverman and I, and we spent hours going over the motivation of American Atheists, and what were our aims.  Admittedly, I went in prepared for a fight. I made a point to say, “CPAC telling me ‘We don’t like your kind ’round here!’ doesn’t sit well with me.”

My raised hackles were soothed. My concerns about a number of issues- education, poverty, national security, the intrusion of religion into politics and into the lives of atheists, I talked about a bunch of this stuff!  And Schneider heard me.  And we found many points upon which we agree.  And there were parts on which we didn’t.  But I didn’t take lightly that I was asked to talk about what it would take to get my vote.

The American Atheist booth was still not accepted, BUT a compromise was agreed.  Republican policy expert and atheist, Edwina Rogers organization, the Secular Policy Institute would have a booth at CPAC.  American Atheists would be permitted to share space in that booth.  And I would lay out the numbers case to all of CPAC about why secular conservatives actually have a place in the modern GOP.

So I gave my speech. I had four minutes to talk about why getting rid of religion in the GOP must happen.  I called myself conservative and I said “I am part of a growing Republican family” that has to face the facts of demographic (and other) change in this country.

And people did come by the booth!  Many signed up for their annual membership- free for one year for all who signed up at the conference.  This is the progress that excited me and American Atheists.  We got to show up.  We weren’t kicked out.  We had a number of good conversations. And we’ll be back next year, too!

But make no mistake, if or not AA had a booth at CPAC, there were plenty of atheists at the event already! Many of them came up and introduced themselves. And we made some good progress with those who let us know that they weren’t atheists, but their children, grandchildren and partners did identify as such.

Now, here’s where I take off my board member cap and speak only for myself.

I find it odd that people care what is my personal political bent. People claim to feel some betrayal that I identified myself as a part of a growing Republican family. (I can’t help the family I was born to, and I happen to love my GOP relations!) Folks are losing it because I demanded of 50% of our (alleged) two-party system that I should want to vote for them.  Hell- I even invoked evolution of party ideals!  There’s tape of me saying “The law is change or die!”

I refuse to be painted into a box on the topic of political identity, because such a box that would be fitting for me doesn’t exist. Forgive me while I appropriate some language here, but I’m personally “political-fluid.”  I’m neither red nor blue.  I’m purplish.  And there are other streaks of green and black and plaid in there!  I’m no slave to fashion, to religious thinking or political thinking.

I’m a conservative on issues of economics, immigration, and a few others.  I’m socially liberal and I often agree with voices who exist on either/both sides of the political spectrum. The problem in this modern era is that folks define themselves based on one label or another, and often refuse to hear anything outside of their own viewpoint. That ain’t me. While I’m also not a senator’s son, I become restless and bored in echo chambers. I am a Freethinker.  I am free to think.  And I do this a great deal.

I believe there’s a lot of work needed right now to improve this country, and as the mother of a young child, I have literal skin in the game.

Folks, the US as I see it, is a house divided.  Moreover it’s a house divided and on fire.  And I don’t care who points out where are the exits that I may not see.  I am not going to burn because someone I disagree with on some issue saw something that I missed.  I want to preserve this Union.  I want to get government back to the business of governing and have it remove itself from private affairs.

It is unacceptable to me that a family risks losing their 10 and 6 year old children because the parents permit the kids to walk alone from park to home in a 15 minute trip.  It is unacceptable that the education outcomes in Mississippi (and most of the US) are what they are.  It is unacceptable that the over-criminalization of African-American people and communities is discussed at the policy level only in terms of ending the protests and conflict that surround the issue.  It is unacceptable that corporate interests are more important to many of our elected officials than the concerns of human people not corporations as “people” or money as “people.”  I think smaller government is a good idea and we can begin by getting politics and religion out of medicine and research.

I went before a group who invited me. I talked policy with people who are looking for a way to appeal to more voters.  And I found a number of people who agree with me.  We have points of disagreement as well, but I’ve never been one to swear allegiance to one way of thinking and I will never promise to refuse common ground with folks who see the world differently from myself.

Some folks would never set foot at CPAC.  It’s their right. Others think that my feminist sisters and I getting down at NOW conferences is a leap too far. I’ve attended too many Congressional Black Caucus events since living in DC for me to remember, and I’ve had people tell me I’m wasting my time to go to those as well.

I am willing to work for the improvement of this country in which I live.  I’m willing to share ideas with folks who want to do the same with me.

I’ve been a critical thinker from the times the nuns who taught me in elementary school encouraged me to ask more and better questions. That’s what I do. I’m not ever going to NOT ask hard questions and think about difficult subjects.

One never grows if one never stretches. My appearance before CPAC was me making an attempt to stretch across to people who didn’t know they had a damn thing in common with a black, atheist, feminist, liberal, conservative, fan of hooks, Orwell, Hitchens, and Guy-Sheftall.

Look up, if you might, the legacy of the recently deceased Senator Edward Brooke.  He was the first Black man elected to the US Senate as a member of the GOP since reconstruction.  He died this January, and is sorely missed by many.  He was a Republican who worked for fair housing, abortion rights (and tried to get funding for poor women!) and a bunch of other issues too. Today, I bet his party affiliation would have been dependent upon where he resided, and not his political beliefs.  I think that’s a problem.

I’m not a pastor.  I don’t preach.  And certainly not to the converted. I had four minutes to lay out one specific case about the numbers of growing non-religious.

I believe I served us well.

To Freethought!

Saved By No Hell: The College (and beyond!) Years

College was an amazing time for me.  I packed up and moved- for the first time- away from home.  We didn’t have GPS back in those days, but according to the AAA Map I didn’t have to use to find my way to campus, I was 1.3 miles from home.  If I went to the highest point of campus, I could see the steeple of the church across the street from my house.  From most of the campus I could see the “Happy Jesus” atop the church that adorned my parish.

St._Benedict_the_Moor_Church_(Pittsburgh)I reveled in being Catholic at a devoutly Catholic place.  Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit- the college game announcers tend to leave out the full title of the place- was a thrill for me.  I was elected to Student Government, I was active and served a few times as an officer of the Black Student Union, and I especially took pride in the fact that I spent much time with the Campus Ministry group.  (A few of my friends from that association are now also atheists, but I don’t “out” private citizens, so no hints here!)

I studied and played and had the typical “college experience” that led to me staying up too late philosophizing and pondering life’s questions while listening to Erykah Badu.  I joined the International Student Organization just because I had never met people from many of the countries represented at my school, and I wanted to learn more and meet more people who could tell me what things were.  Books be damned!

It was during my sophomore year that I was looking for a job.  I wandered into what I believed to be the student radio station and asked to talk with the person who could hire me.  Being a native, I sailed through the part of the “Pennsylvania Pronunciation”interview.  car-NAY-ghee and mah-NANG-a-HAY-la rolled off my Yinzer tongue just as did the weirdly named university I attended.  (doo-CAIN)  Having never taken a journalism course, two years into my Political Science and Communications studies, I screwed up and got a job at the wrong place.  There was a reason that grad student looked so… experienced!  I turned down the wrong corridor and went into the REAL radio station!  I was hired as a news assistant at 90.5 WDUQ-FM.  ($3.35/hour  I was rollin’ in it, y’all!) And I spent four years learning the ropes.

Thanks to my training at the hands of an old-school journalism instructor, I learned by doing.  I had to get out of the office and go get a story.  There weren’t no fancy “Internet” back in those days!  You had to get your hands inky reading these big grey pages called “newspapers.”  And if you wanted to talk with someone, you had to dial their number and get them on the line.  I couldn’t just send out emails and wait!  Sometimes, you had to get yourself to an office or even a house to find the person you’d speak with.  It was truly a different era!

But I learned well enough that when I heard there was an entry-level NPR gig opening up, I was able to get it.  I spent a decade at National Public Radio.  I got to meet people who I’d only ever heard their names mentioned in the credits of the shows I listened to.  I got to work with people I’d idolized from afar.  I also got to spend a lot of time learning to pitch stories and getting over the stung ego of being told, “Nah.  That’s not interesting.”  I was both an editor and a producer.  On occasion, I also got the opportunity to report.

I worked on Morning Edition. (Bob Edwards is a darling, and listening to him interview is a master class in the craft!) I spent years at Tell Me More with Michel Martin.  (A travesty that she doesn’t have that show any longer!) And I got to work on most of the other programs as well.  I’m a good producer.  However, it became apparent that producing wasn’t where my heart beat most strongly, and I went off to other things.

Namely, I started writing and speaking more extensively about the harm that can be brought by over-religion and why more must be done to bolster the wall between State and Church.  I was given the opportunity to speak at atheist events- something I rather LOVE doing- and I spent much time writing and researching a book that I am embarrassed to admit is still not written!

So, today I’m here on this blog.  And I’m delighted to be here on this blog.  And I’m going to be writing more about what’s happening in Washington and how it impacts those of us who are without belief in supernatural higher powers.  And it will be my pleasure to do as much!

A Bit About Me: The Early Years

Howdy Dear Reader!

I’m often asked to give a bio about 100 words long.  More often than that, it’s condensed to “Journalist and speaker, Jamila Bey is delivering X talk on Y date.”  And while I do enjoy trying to be witty, pithy and accurate within those constraints, I think a more proper introduction is in order for this site!

First, let’s begin with a game of “Spot the Lie!”

A) I was born a poor Black child.  

B) When I was 17, I did what people told me; did what my father said and let my mother mold me.  

C) I started from the bottom, now I’m here.  

D) A & B

E) B& C

F) None of the Above

If you guessed “A” give yourself and Mulligan and try again.  “F” is what we’re looking for!

little me (2)

I was born, raised, educated and held my first job in Pittsburgh.  I’m the child of a telephone operator and an auto worker/librarian/turned police sergeant.  The historic part of the city in which I grew up, the Hill District, is the setting for all of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson’s plays.  Religion played a big role in my young life.  While he didn’t practice, and I certainly never learned the doctrine, my father was a Black Muslim by birth.  Having the name “Bey” in Pittsburgh meant that I was always asked if my people were from the West part of the city (they were) and if I ate pork (I didn’t) and how come I went to Catholic school if I was part of the city’s most well-known, non-Christian clan.

church (2)

My mother was a Baptist who converted to Catholicism about the time it came to enroll me in school and to get a parish discount.  I do believe her devotion, but the timing leads me to think that her god’s got wonderful timing.  Except for a 6-8th grade reprieve, ALL of my education up until my final semester in college was at the hands of Catholic schoolteachers. And true to form, they taught me how to question and dissect everything.

I actually did consider myself to be an adherent Catholic… though it never did make sense to me.  I put forth a good face.

The face started to crack in high school when my questioning Catholic doctrine and dogma and my growing understanding of my rights as a citizen were in eternal conflict.  I once spent an afternoon in detention where the vice principal, a round ball of Catholic rage, took sharpie to my backpack and demanded I help her.


I’d taken White-Out and painted a wire hanger with a circle and slash through it, and the block letters, “PRO CHOICE” on my bag.  As she scribbled and scribbled in black over that White Out, the marker just slid off, and darkened the area around my “blasphemous” artwork, serving to highlight it instead.  I got another day of detention because as we were “covering up” my bag, I was told, “You can’t come back to school with this on your bag! You can’t wear this uniform and have THAT showing!”  I smirked at her and laughed, “I guess everyone is gonna put this on their backpacks and get free “out of uniform days ” from you for now on.” uniform (2)


I spent more time in detention than in nearly every other activity except for forensics.  I loved parliamentary debate just as much as I loved being in front of a room.  Thanks to my success in the activity, I got to travel and meet lots of folks- many of whom I still count as friends today!  And while I have no recollection that we met as high schoolers, Harvard Humanist Chaplain, Greg Epstein and I were at the same National Catholic Forensic League tournament in Boca Raton, FL!

All that debating and hanging out with cool Jewish kids was having its way with me.  I refused to pick a female saint for my Catholic confirmation ceremony on principle.  I refused to talk about anything other than how amazing was Sinead O’Connor for ripping up the picture of the pope on SNL- a spectacle I actually witnessed live.  And I was really having a hard time buying that there was some benevolent and loving man in the sky who saw fit to spend plenty of time reminding me that lusting in my heart was sinful, but didn’t see fit to spare any time to stop the suffering of a girl I knew who wound up miscarrying her own father’s child.

For one not so adept at math, this Catholic stuff didn’t add up for me at all!

So, I decided to enroll in a Catholic university and go in whole hog!  Eating none of course, I’m 1/2 Muslim after all!

… To Be Continued


February, the shortest and coldest month on this part of the planet, is the time in which schoolchildren learn that Black Americans did far more than just suffer enslavement in these United States.  Children all over learn (just short weeks after MLK’s dream-filled celebrations) that George Washington Carver was a peanut genius, Rosa Parks got tired and wouldn’t give up her bus seat to a white man, and that ​Black people are all God-fearing and without the reverends and churches of the post-WWII era, the Civil Rights movement wouldn’t have been a success.
I’m skipping over my (minor) quibbles with the month for this post, as I genuinely wish to make it clear that Atheists really need to support Black History Month for the simple fact that one of our own invented it! 
Carter G. Woodson, autodidact who graduated with his Ph.D. from Harvard, was a leading thinker who came up with the idea of Negro History Month in 1926.  He hoped, (as does this writer) that the need for the commemoration would someday become obsolete.
Woodson was a staunch critic of religious institutions and wrote that they were oppressive to Blacks.  Just as he believed that the accomplishments and the global influence of Black people were unreported or at best under represented, the influence of freethinking and atheist people, particularly concerning American history, have been diminished. 
Today’s Google Doodle, which celebrates the anniversary of the birth of African-American poet, and columnist, Langston Hughes, is also a great opportunity for atheists to remind folks that Hughes was also without religion. In his 1932 poem, “Goodbye Christ” he wrote,

Listen, Christ,
You did alright in your day, I reckon—
But that day’s gone now.
They ghosted you up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible—
But it’s dead now,
The popes and the preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.

So, I’m delighted to be part of the FTB family, and I think it a happy coincidence that I’m launching in February.  I look very much forward to doing more to afflict the comfortable and making the acquaintence of the readers here.