Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In Memoriam: Anne Nicol Gaylor

This week, freethought lost one of its truest and brightest heroes. We are all heartbroken by the passing of Anne Nicol Gaylor, the principal founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

If you are unfamiliar with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, they are a national non-profit organization based here in Madison, Wisconsin. They advocate for atheists, agnostics, and non-theists by promoting the separation of church and state and fighting important legal battles, among many other things.

Through Anne's stewardship, the FFRF grew mightily and claimed several important legal victories, including Gaylor v. Reagan, an FFRF suit protesting the declaration of 1983 as “The Year of the Bible,” and a litigation victory declaring a Good Friday holiday in Wisconsin to be unconstitutional. Today, the FFRF has roughly 21,500 members and continues to be the most important state-church watchdog in the United States.

Anne also founded the Women's Medical Fund. From their website, The Women's Medical Fund "is a non-profit charitable organization assisting Wisconsin women and girls who are seeking an abortion and cannot afford the entire cost."

Since 1972, the Women's Medical Fund has helped more than 20,000 women find abortions in Wisconsin. They also assist many women who "are victims of domestic battery, of rape and incest, and those who are homeless, disabled, addicted or ill."

AHA is making a $100 donation to the Women's Medical Fund in honor of Anne Nicol Gaylor, and we encourage everyone reading this blog to make a donation as well. To make a donation in honor of Anne Nicol Gaylor's life, please visit their website (

We have always admired Anne's amazing work with the FFRF and the Women's Medical Fund. Her incredible work ethic, even in dire medical conditions, was inspiring to all freethinkers, and undoubtedly made an overwhelmingly positive impact on our nation.

You can read more about her life here.

Our thoughts are with Annie Laurie Gaylor, Anne's daughter with whom she co-founded the FFRF, during this unimaginably tough time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reflecting Back on Freethought Festival 4

This post is also featured on the Center for Inquiry On Campus blog, the Course of Reason.

Every year, the student leaders here at AHA organize our annual conference, the Freethought Festival. Freethought Festival 4 was held March 13-15, 2015 at the beautiful DeLuca Forum in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

Like all other freethought conferences, at Freethought Fest we advocate for secular values, such as freethought, science, and skepticism.

What's the best part of Freethought Fest? It's completely free, and anyone can attend.

Our keynote speaker this year was Susan Jacoby. Susan is the author of the 2008 New York Times best-selling book The Age of American Unreason, which tackled the issues associated with American anti-intellectualism. She began her career as a reporter for The Washington Post, and has since been a contributor to a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and The Nation. She has written ten books in total including The Age of American Unreason, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. At Freethought Festival 4, Susan gave a dialogue titled "The Conscience of a Freethinker," which touched on issues like consequentialism and free will.

In addition to Mrs. Jacoby, AHA welcomed roughly a dozen other speakers from throughout the secular community.

Among those speakers was sex educator Lindsey Doe, who hosts the well-known YouTube channel Sexplanations. Other speakers included bloggers Ed Brayton and Heina Dadabhoy, Freedom From Religion Foundation attorneys Andrew Seidel and Patrick Elliott, author Candace Gorham, activists Debbie Goddard and James Croft, and comedians Jamie Kilstein and Tommy Nugent. We also hosted two panel discussions, one featuring speakers on the topic of Issues Facing Women in Secularism, and the other featuring students on the topic of Religion and Morality.

All of our FTF4 videos are now on YouTube, which you can go view now:

Throughout FTF4, we attempted to tackle important issues within the secular community, but also important issues outside of our movement. At this years conference, we wanted to host conversations focused on real-world issues. A few examples include James Croft, who spoke about racial tensions in Ferguson, Debbie Goddard, who spoke about student activism, and Candace Gorham, who spoke about why so many Black women are leaving the church. Our diverse lineup of speakers brought many different perspectives into these conversations, which added value in many ways.

I hope, at least in some small way, that our conference made a positive impact on the lives of our attendees, on the community in Madison, and on the freethought community in general, while reminding people that they can have a tangible impact on social change within their lifetimes.

If you joined us at Freethought Festival 4, we hope you enjoyed yourself, and see you at Freethought Festival 5!

Lastly, we are currently in the planning stages for FTF5, and we'd like to hear from you. If you'd like to give suggestions about how we can improve the conference or who you'd like to see speak, please fill out this brief survey.

Freethought Festival is funded by student segregated fees through an annual operations budget received by AHA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Meet the Officers: Sam "Smuko" Smukowski

“Meet the Officers” is a biographical series that seeks to give names and personalities to the officers who run Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Every two weeks, the blog will update with a post about a new officer.

Sam "Smuko" Smukowski is an officer in AHA. He is a junior majoring in Genetics. After transferring from UW-Green Bay this year, Sam found AHA through the student organization directory. He visited AHA at the student organization fair and talked to officers Mark and Anna about the group's activities and a bit of multiverse philosophy. After that, he started attending AHA regularly. In his spare time, Sam likes to swim, bike, play Frisbee Golf, listen to rock music, read classic literature (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Hearts of Darkness, A Clockwork Orange, Metamorphosis) and explore philosophical topics.

                Sam's Secular Story

Even though I grew up in a Catholic home, I guess you could say I was always atheistic. If you asked my parents, they would tell you I questioned everything. I was the kind of person who frequently searched for answers and wondered how things work. I would be unsatisfied if people gave me the classic response, "Because it just is." So you can imagine that whenever I asked about God and Jesus and Heaven and received that response, I got rather frustrated. I needed to understand, and no one could help me do that. That probably led to my high degree of skepticism that I carry through up to today.

Catholicism was something I continued to struggle with during my teenage years. My parents sent me to CCD every Wednesday. I was eventually asked to leave--imagine why! My parents were rather upset with me, but they finally understood I would never get it and they could no longer force it upon me, so they just stopped taking me to church. "Thank goodness," I thought to myself.

At that point, I was no longer Catholic, but I really didn't know what to believe. I was basically doing my own search for a while. I can say that in my sophomore year of high school when I took the course AP World History, I finally became content. We spent a unit studying all the world religions. We also studied how they led to conflicts and war and how they formed the types of government and cultural practices, etc. After going through that, I finally decided that religion in general was absurd. From the midpoint of that year, I identified as an atheist. In reality, you could say I was more of a moral nihilist.

This kept up for a few years until I began studying philosophy in senior literature class. Although, we explored Christian Literature, we also studied Locke, Camus, Nietzsche, and several others. At this point I began to spend more time developing my own world view. Furthermore, I realized that it did not have to be absolute. My world view could be fluid and I could continuously change how I think about things as I gain more evidence and listen to what other people have to say.

At this point I identify as Secular Humanist, but I find it best to simply understand that everyone is an independent person and has a right to hold their own beliefs. Instead of fighting over who is right and who is wrong, we should try to listen to other people and learn from them so we can solve the world's mysteries together.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Meet the Officers: Cassidy Slinger

“Meet the Officers” is a biographical series that seeks to give names and personalities to the officers who run Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Every two weeks, the blog will update with a post about a new officer.

Cassidy Slinger is a general AHA officer. She is a freshman majoring in Pharmacy and Toxicology. Cassidy had heard about AHA through various atheist news sources prior to coming to college. When saw the table at the student organization fair, she signed up immediately. Once she attended her first meeting and experienced a true community of atheists, she was hooked. In her spare time, Cassidy likes to buy pop-tarts at really low prices, craft, play with animals, perform musical theater, and watch Broad City.

Cassidy's Secular Story

I grew up in a technically Catholic home: I went to church somewhat regularly with my Catholic mom, and we would pray before eating sometimes (I asked for a horse at the end of a prayer once. I was hilarious as a child), but other than that religion wasn't a huge part of my early life. I did end up going to a Catholic school from Kindergarten through 3rd grade, which kind of made Catholicism a part of my identity rather than strengthen my faith in any deity or whatever the reason is to send a kid to Catholic school. I thought of myself as a "good Catholic," not necessarily because I had such strong faith in God or anything, I just liked following rules and memorizing things, so learning prayers and learning how a church service ran were just kind of things I liked doing because I liked patterns and structure or something. I never really had faith beyond just accepting that God was real.

I think I had my first big issue with religion when I was about seven. I was at vacation bible school, where we were learning bible stories and singing songs and playing games, and we were learning John 3:16 in song form. Terror struck through me and I began tearing up as everyone around me sang about how believing in Jesus would give you eternal life. But what if you didn't? My dad didn't believe Jesus was the son of God, would he not get to go to heaven with me, my mom, and my brothers? From then on I was a little brat in religion classes. One teacher was going through the sacraments and mentioned marriage as something that lasted for life because Catholics don't get divorced, to which I responded "my grandma is very Catholic and she got divorced." Through all my doubting and questioning and being a pill though, I think the thing that most represented my eventual shift to atheism was how I pictured God. Most drawings and portrayals of God are of an old man with a long white beard. In my conscious thought I knew that's what I was supposed to picture, but instead of that standard image, my subconscious figured that God was Reverend Lovejoy from the Simpsons.

My official conversion took place in 6th grade; we were learning about Ancient Egypt and the gods they worshiped. I remember thinking "the Egyptians were so sure that their gods were real that they constructed massive pyramids for them. What makes the Christian god any different?" and that day I went home and told my mom about my new beliefs. She was unhappy at first, and still took me to church for a while after (I do have two younger brothers who weren't quite old enough to figure out what they believed at the time, but it clearly would not have been "fair" for me to stay home when they had to go to church) but has never been anything but supportive. My grandma once asked me why I wasn't getting confirmed and my mom changed the topic in a way I can only remember seeming like a Jedi mind trick.

I can't talk about my secular "journey" without mentioning my dad, though. He's been my role model for what being moral and secular looks like, and he helped spark my interest in science (my mom does get credit for my interest in medicine, though). He encouraged me to join AHA and lets me know if there's anything about atheism on tv or in a newspaper, and also has a collection of books by famous atheist writers, which he keeps on a bookshelf that he shares with my mom, which results in the Bible hilariously being on the same shelf as books like "God is not Great." I honestly couldn't be luckier to have grown up in the environment that I did; my family and friends have been nothing but supportive, and I've become even more thankful after seeing the environments other AHA members have come from.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ask an Atheist Day and Signs on Bascom Hill

Today is Ask an Atheist Day, a holiday encouraging mental exploration of atheism and secular concepts! In celebration, we resurrected our large signs designed to pique passersby's curiosity. The signs are up today (4/16) from 9am to 5:30pm. Take a look while you can! If you know you won't be in the area, here are some pictures from today:

Officers Branden and Nicole bringing signs to the hill

 And a last look at our row of signs coming down the hill

Tomorrow, 9/17, we will be tabling from 12pm to 6pm in Union South for National Ask an Atheist Day. If you missed the fun today, you can always hang out with us tomorrow!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Meet the Officers: Cole Dreier

“Meet the Officers” is a biographical series that seeks to give names and personalities to the officers who run Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Every two weeks, the blog will update with a post about a new officer.

Cole Dreier is the Vice-President of AHA. He is a senior majoring in Mathematics and Economics. Cole was drawn to AHA by the then-President Michael Ramuta at the student organization fair. He started attending meetings and met many like-minded people who wanted to talk about big picture ideas. In his spare time, Cole likes to play the ukulele, piano, and saxophone, sing, run, bake, and learn about cool things. If he could do anything for the rest of his life, he would be a soccer goaltender.

                 Cole's Secular Story

I grew up in a family about as non-religious as they come. Both of my parents lost their religion in their early teens, and we didn't attend a single religious service growing up. This extends to the rest of my family as well, from grandparents to cousins to aunts and uncles. As such, I grew up in an entirely secular household; no one was particularly against religion, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, and even Hanukkah with my culturally Jewish grandfather, but the notion of believing in a god was never even brought up.

I grew up in a small town in Rhode Island, and if people there cared about religion, they didn't really show it. Yeah, there was a prayer group in highschool, but it was far and away the minority, and no one really cared either way what you thought. There were a couple small churches, I even went to daycare in the basement of one, but they certainly weren't the center of town, and as far as I experienced, there was no expectation to attend church.This sort of sheltered, easy-going upbringing gave me a pretty apathetic attitude towards religion; sure, I certainly didn't believe in it, but I had never been bothered by someone who did, so live and let live. I hear from a lot of friends in AHA that the idea that one could be an atheist didn't even occur to them until they were exposed to it through a friend or a book, and in a sense the same is true of me. The fact that I would even have to identify myself as someone who doesn't believe in a god seemed strange to me, because that had been the default my entire life. It was only when I came to UW-Madison and joined AHA that I started to hear about the genuine difficulties that people had with religious friends and family, and I came to realize how unusual my upbringing was. Through AHA, I surrounded myself with friends that had gone through more difficult transitions, lost friends and family, and it was these friends, not a loss of faith or feeling of ill will towards religion, that gave me a desire to contribute what I could to AHA, and the general improvement of the lives of non-religious students.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Flying Spaghetti Monster Back in Wisconsin State Capitol

Once again, we here at AHA have added a display to the Wisconsin State Capitol Rotunda.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is Risen!
Praise be His Noodly Name.

Think this doesn't belong here? We agree.
Religious ideas should not be promoted within the hall of government.
Protect the Separation of Church and State. It protects us all.

Our display depicts the “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” a popular mock deity within the secular community composed entirely of spaghetti and meatballs. It is intended to counter a cross that has been on display over the Easter holiday, pictured here.

The intention of the display is not to mock religious believers, but rather to advocate for the separation of Church and State. We want to draw attention to the ridiculous public forum system in the Wisconsin State Capitol which allows religious displays to enter the halls of government. We would prefer that our Capitol remain secular, and hopefully the absurdity of our display will make people question whether the Capitol is an appropriate place for promoting religious views.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster has previously graced the Capitol’s halls. This year's display plays off of a similar display which AHA put up in December of 2013. The sign combated numerous religious holiday displays, urging onlookers to "Be touched by his noodly appendage before it is too late!" while reminding them that "He boiled for your sins."

Additionally, AHA put up three displays in the Capitol last December, with two of the displays depicting gods from the popular television show Game of Thrones.

We have found that it is incredibly easy for AHA to secure a permit for our displays. In fact, practically anyone can put anything they want in the Capitol. All you have to do is fill out this simple one-page application (DOC).

Go check out the display for yourself! It'll be in the Wisconsin State Capitol until Sunday, April 12th.