Global Atheist Convention – Sunday 15 April (Part Two)

Back in 2009, in an effort to live up to their name, Atheist Alliance International decided to start hosting atheist conventions throughout the world.

With that in mind, they approached the Atheist Foundation of Australia, offering to provide seed funding for an AAI conference here in Australia.

The plan was to  give AAI a greater presence in Australia. This didn’t really happen.

Something got lost in translation (or ambition).  The AFA took the money and ran with it. They changed the name of the conference to the Global Atheist Convention, the AFA made a name for themselves and the AAI found themselves effectively sidelined. AAI became the ‘junior partner’ although the Convention was their idea and made possible with their money.

Having severed my relationship with the AFA (I don’t like the way they operate), I don’t know what’s happened in the interim but there’s been a changing of the guard and AAI had a higher profile (though not high enough IMHO) at this Convention.

Stuart Bechman, a delightful man who was president of AAI in 2010  (and MC at the 2010 Convention) has since stepped down. Replacing him is Tanya Smith an investment banker from Australia.  Tanya was on the original 2010 Global Atheist Convention organising committee and was also involved in the 2012 Convention.

It was good to see AAI given a chance to promote themselves at this Convention as I felt strongly that they’d been substantially short-changed for their investment in 2010. (That is my opinion, not necessarily that of AAI.)

Tanya Smith – Atheist Alliance International

Tanya’s speech was titled, “How do we change the world?”

She introduced Atheist Alliance International (AAI) as a global alliance of atheist groups and individual members.

One of the key functions of AAI is to help establish atheist groups, especially in countries where this is difficult. Tanya spoke, for example, of AAI’s role in establishing the Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics back in August 2011.

AAI also fields questions from around the world, from people asking about atheism, for advice and support in establishing atheist organisations, and for guidance in combating religious assaults on human rights and freedom.

The AAI now has a global convention program.  Tanya echoes my own view that making personal connections with each other is critical if we are to make an effective stand for atheism and secularism.

I was delighted to hear that AAI has been instrumental in opening the Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda. The school opened early in 2011 and now has 300 students, and growing. Uganda has been the victim of Christian fundamentalist dominionism. Educating children in a secular school is a brilliant strategy to help them fight back against this rampant religious imperialism.

You can learn more about the Kasese school on its website. You can also get involved by sponsoring school fees for one or more students,  or a teacher’s salary.

Here are the kids singing and shouting “Humanities!” on assembly:

Another priority for AAI is to gain international status for atheists. To that end, they are seeking to gain consultative status with the United Nations.

You can apply to have your organisation affiliated with AAI, or join as an individual member – or simply donate to the great work they’re doing.  Members also receive issues of AAI’s excellent “Secular World” magazine in which I’m very proud to have been published … twice!

For more information go to the Atheist Alliance International website.

Annie Laurie Gaylor – Freedom from Religion Foundation / Freethought Radio

One of my major complaints about atheists and atheist organisations is that we talk a lot but we really need to get out and DO SOMETHING!  That’s one reason I’m very happy to promote Atheist Alliance International which seems to be doing much more than self-promoting and putting signs on buses.

Another organisation I’m delighted to promote is America’s Freedom from Religion Foundation – run by feminist, Annie Laurie Gaylor and her husband, former evangelical preacher, Dan Barker.  FFRF has 18,000 members and functions primarily as a watchdog on violations of America’s constitutional  separation of church and state. They filed 50 lawsuits last year and won many.

Annie Laurie and Dan also have a nationally syndicated radio show and podcast: Freethought Radio.  It’s well worth subscribing to their podcasts.

Annie Laurie began by confessing that she had ‘PM’ envy. Our atheist PM may not be ideal, but an atheist President in the US is currently an impossibility.

“There is a defacto religious test for office in the USA,” she said.

It seems that it’s not only non-Americans who view America’s ‘God fixation’ with a degree of fear.

“A superpower which looks to the supernatural is just plain scary!” said Annie Laurie.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is a third generation freethinker. She believes it is immoral to indocrinate children with fear and neuroses.

Annie Laurie said she was sorry to hear that Australia’s state/church separation had been subverted (due to the 1981 High Court decision in the DoGS case).

Annie Laurie urged us to keep defending Australian secularism, “You don’t want the religious right in your country!” she said.  Unfortunately, Annie Laurie, they’re already here!

She was also adamant that the state should not fund religious programs (like the National School Chaplaincy Program).

“Where public money goes,” she said, “public accountability must follow.”

“Public money should not fund divisive programs.”

Annie Laurie told us about Jessica Ahlquist, a 16 year old atheist from Rhode Island who lobbied successfully to have a prayer removed from the wall of her high school – where it has hung for 49 years. Jessica has been vilified and threatened for doing nothing more than asking her school to uphold the Constitution. State Representative, Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, even called Jessica “an evil little thing” during a radio interview.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has supported Jessica and awarded her a $13,000 scholarship for her activism.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this kind of thing here in Australia and actively encourage our brightest young people to stand up for a secular Australia?

Another initiative of the FFRF has been to encourage Catholics to stop supporting the Catholic Church with their ‘membership’.  We already know there are many Catholics who are appalled at the actions of their church in relation to contraception, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, abortion, the sexual abuse of children and subsequent cover-ups,  etc – but they fail to take that extra step and quit. In particular, the Catholic Church in America is opposing the inclusion of contraception in the new Health Care Plan.

In response, in March this year, The Freedom From Religion Foundation placed a full-page ad in the New York Times, headlined:  “IT’S TIME TO CONSIDER QUITTING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.”

The ad reminds Catholics that the Church “hasn’t persuaded you to shun contraception” and encourages Catholics to leave the church – en mass (another brilliant ‘bon mot’ from Dan Barker).

Notably, the NYT would not publish the advertisement as submitted. The original headline was “IT’S TIME TO QUIT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH”.  It had to be modified before the paper would print it.

The FFRF also produced a television commercial in response to (failed) Presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum’s claim that John F Kennedy’s landmark speech on the separation of church and state almost made him throw up.

Annie Laurie noted that the background music which we would recognise as “God save the Queen” has another lyric in the US, “Let freedom reign”.

I’ve spoken previously about the dangerous symbolism of prayers in parliament. Annie Laurie agreed.

“Government prayer is an affront to Reason!” she said, urging politicians to, “Get off your knees and get to work!”

“There is a time when religion ruled the world,” she said, “It’s known as ‘The Dark Ages’.” Hear, hear!

America is facing its own ‘dark age’. Annie Laurie noted that the US Supreme Court is now dominated by right-wing conservative Catholics who vote as a block. The ‘land of the free’ is turning into a theocracy.

This is one of the reasons I keep urging Australians to sit up and take notice of what is happening here. It’s this insidious infiltration of religious extremists into our parliaments, legislative bodies, public service and schools which will take us down the same path as America. Fundamentalists are quietly waging an assault on Australian secularism, and we are blithely standing by (with the exception of people like Ron Williams) and letting them.

Wake up and DO SOMETHING!

Chrys Stevenson

1 thought on “Global Atheist Convention – Sunday 15 April (Part Two)

  1. Pingback: The Bear Necessities « Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

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