Young Adult Book Club in Hattiesburg

Books (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)
If you have a teen or young adult in the Hattiesburg area, consider letting them know about the Hattiesburg Young Adult Book Club, a community group focused on young adult literature. The club is sponsored by the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal, and Forrest County and the Department of English at Southern Miss.

What does this have to do with atheism, you ask? Not much of anything really. I suppose I see efforts like this aimed at getting young adults to read to be beneficial in promoting literacy and education. That strikes me as sufficiently valuable to share. And after all, it is National Library Week.

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SB 2681 Signed Into Law

colored waiting room
(Photo source: Wikipedia)
Gov. Phil Bryant signed SB 2681 yesterday. The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act has passed and will take effect on July 1. We will now see "In God We Trust" added to our state seal even though many Mississippians do not believe in any sort of gods. We may also see businesses discriminating against LGBT individuals and then hiding behind their fundamentalist Christianity to excuse it. But most of all, Mississippi will retain its reputation for intolerance and bigotry, a reputation that has been devastating to the state's economy, leads increasing numbers of bright young people to move away as soon as they are able, and has helped to keep us locked in a cycle of poverty.

Thank you to all who have been working so tirelessly in opposition to SB 2681. Clearly, our work is far from over. The good news is that your efforts have demonstrated to anyone paying attention that there is significant opposition to this legislation in Mississippi. We must now figure out how best to channel our opposition to this law into the sort of meaningful change that will move us closer to equality and the preservation of church-state separation.

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Call Gov. Bryant Today About SB 2681

SB 2681 has passed both legislative chambers and is on Gov. Bryant's desk awaiting his signature. Now is the time to let him hear from us. Please join me in calling today.

If you want to help but cannot call Gov. Bryant's office, you can use the online form from Americans United for Separation of Church and State to send a message here.


Mississippi, We Do Not Trust Your God

The Great Seal of the State of Mississippi
Mississippi State Seal (Photo credit: chmeredith)
SB 2681, the controversial "Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act," passed the state Senate, was amended by the House, and subsequently passed the House in amended form. In passing the legislation, the House sent the portion that appeared to permit religiously-based discrimination against LGBT individuals to a study committee. According to Deep South Progressive, this happened because Republican leadership was not confident that the bill had enough support to get through the House. It will likely return at some point, but it has not yet been passed.

Preventing the portion of SB 2681 from passing was a major accomplishment, and everyone who contributed to its defeat should be commended. It was encouraging to see Mississippians spreading the word and contacting their elected officials to express opposition to the bill. I'd like to extend special thanks to the Campaign for Southern Equality and Deep South Progressive for their efforts to inform and organize around defeating this legislation.

Unfortunately, something got lost amidst all the controversy around the "license to discriminate" portion of SB 2681. This bill also sought to add "In God We Trust" to Mississippi's state seal, and this portion of the bill passed. For some Mississippi atheists, this addition to the state seal is purely symbolic and has little importance. For others, and I include myself here, this addition and the rationale for it are cause for concern.


University Student Brings Attention to Atheists in the South

Locator Map of Alamance County, North Carolina...
Alamance County, NC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Abby Franklin, a senior at Elon University (Elon, NC), recently wrote an article about atheism for her school paper, The Pendulum. Ms. Franklin's article, "Atheists nervous about coming out in southern states," is likely to be of interest to atheists throughout the South. She notes that atheists living in many Southern states receive the message that atheism is unacceptable. I can't help thinking that articles like hers are an important step on the path toward changing this sort of bigotry.

Some of the points Ms. Franklin makes in her article include:
  • Some states, including Mississippi, still prohibit atheists from holding public office.
  • Public professions of religious belief often seem necessary for Southern politicians, and this may have a "trickle-down effect" on atheist residents.
  • Minority groups throughout history have faced the challenge of overcoming destructive stereotyping by the majority, and atheists now have this task.
  • Atheism is increasing at the national level, but stigma remains problematic in much of the South.
  • The Internet has been instrumental in the growth of atheism.
I appreciate Ms. Franklin's efforts to bring attention to this subject, and I hope that more will follow in her footsteps. Things are beginning to change for atheists at the national level, and this is certainly encouraging. But from the perspective of many of us here in the South, change at the local level is much slower and more difficult to spot.

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