Derek Araujo – A Decade of Campus Freethought Activism

July 28, 2006

Derek Araujo was one of the founders and the first student president of the Campus Freethought Alliance in 1996. At the time he was attending Harvard College where he also founded the Harvard Secular Society before graduating magna cum laude in 1999. Mr. Araujo has since received a J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School where he was a senior editor of the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and is now an attorney based in the New York City.

On July 15th 2006 Derek Araujo addressed a group of over 70 student leaders and about 35 CFI Community leaders gathered at the Center for Inquiry headquarters in Amherst NY for CFI’s Student Leadership Conference, marking the 10th anniversary of the Campus Freethought Alliance, now known as Center for Inquiry On Campus. This special episode of Point of Inquiry features Mr. Araujo’s remarks, in their entirety, with an introduction by Paul Kurtz.

Also in this episode, student leaders Eric Toedter from the University of Florida and Adria Updike from Clemson University share their thoughts about the importance of freethought and skeptical student activism and detail ways that other students can get involved in CFI’s campus outreach efforts.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, July 28, 2006. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe fee point of inquiries, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York on our new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa, Hollywood and Washington, D.C., and 11 other cities around the world. Every week on point of inquiry, we examine some of the most central beliefs of our society, and we focused mostly on three research areas. First, we look at pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, we examine alternative and complementary medicine. Third, we’re interested in secularism and religion. The intersection of religion and science in our society, really church, state, separation. We look at these three areas by drawing on the Center for Inquires relationship with the leading minds of the day, including public intellectuals, Nobel Prize winning scientists, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. I’m pleased that on today’s point of inquiry, we’re going to bring you a speech that was presented at the Center for Inquiry’s recent student leadership conference that we put on for many of the leaders of CFI is growing network of campus groups. They work with us to advance science and reason at their schools. The speech is given by Derek Trujillo, the first student president of our campus outreach program. What we now call Center for inquiry on campus. Later in this episode, I’ll be joined by Adrià Updyke from Clemson University who attended this leadership conference. But first, I’m joined by Eric Tator, a junior at the University of Florida, studying chemistry and other things, something called agronomy. Never heard of that. And he’s on point of inquiry after joining us this weekend at the Center for Inquiry here in Amherst, New York, for our 10th anniversary celebration of our campus outreach program, what we call center for inquiry on campus. Eric, thanks for joining me on Point of Inquiry. It’s great to be here, T.J.. So, Eric, you’re involved in CFI Campus Group at University of Florida. Why did you get involved at first? 

At first, I was approached by an asphalt group that’s atheist, agnostic and freethinking students association. I was just interested in being coming active on campus and I hadn’t had a background in free thought or atheists or anything that. 

So what appealed to you? Why did you get involved? You said you hadn’t had a background in all of other than science and. OK, so you had. Yes. Mind. You’re involved in in the sciences. You’re kind of steeped in that. It’s not like you’re twiddling your thumbs and some atheist comes up to you and converts you. Right. Not so much as the campus preachers would have you believe. So I’m really interested in the process of thinking that led you to become more involved in Freethought activism. I find it in my classes. I go to such a large University of 50000 students that lecture halls. You don’t often get time to ask questions of teachers. 

And we’re missing we’re missing a lot of what should be going on in the academic undergraduate. At least the group I’m in is comprised mostly of older graduate students and I found a void to be filled for the undergraduate area. 

So you guys are talking about things that that you’re telling me right now. You don’t get to talk about in your classes, even though ostensibly that’s the whole point of the university. 

You’re right on that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I feel as students, they have to understand their responsibility as the backbone of the university to demand that these difficult questions are being asked. And if they find opposition, which I am finding suddenly among some professors. 

So people are resisting your organizing this Freethought group. 

Yes. In some ways, not not directly. I’m not finding it from the faculty. It’s just it’s a difficult process. 

And becoming recognized that the university legitimately these groups often have to jump through a lot of hoops to get recognition so they can have access to the student activities, funds that other groups like Campus Crusade for Christ have easy access to. Yeah. Exactly. You have a lot of Christian evangelical or or paranormal New Age groups on your campus. 

Yeah, there’s about 10 groups and we are the only free thinking group on campus. We started about a year ago. There had been a previous group that eroded away. As you may know, these groups do tend to come and go. Right. Like organizing at a bus stop. But organizing I was I was not previous aware before the CFI made it clear there is the religious push into the public arena. And I wasn’t sure how rooted they were actually until a speaker named added to Bass with the CFI talked about detailed the erosion of church and state. 

Yeah, Eddie to Bosh is one of our speakers and one of the best speakers on this issue in the nation travels the country speaking on college campuses, on church, state separation, existence of God, civil liberties. And he was one of our speakers here this weekend. 

Absolutely. One of the greatest speakers they had here. And I can only imagine if all speakers sponsored by the CFI are of the same caliber. 

Well, we’ll have to we’ll talk after you’re on point of inquiry about getting Eddie to University of Florida. So you were motivated this weekend at the conference, this leadership conference here at the Center for Inquiry to get more activists? 

That’s absolutely right. I think my approach will be to start recruiting from the more Pery professional students, such as the prelaw free health cetera, get getting them involved, getting them involved, because this movement needs more professionalism. I’m finding the atheist, all of that, those groups real good. But that’s just one demographic that we need to unite. And we’re going to have to expand. We’re going to have to expand or put our political base. And that at a pre professional is just a seed that should be foster. 

So it sounds like you’re saying that the secular humanist, the critical rationalist, the scientific naturalists point of view, however you want to describe it, that it’s not just for scrapie a.. Largess people who get together and and have is their only idea of a good time to x out in God, we trust on all their dollar bills. Right. That’s right. So your activism, the kind of activism we’ve been talking about all weekend, is more affirmative and it casts a wider net. 

That’s right. I’m not sure if there are other groups that the CFI would pander to, but this seems to be the groups that they’re trying to unite under secular humanism. Ah, yeah. Yeah. 

Or all those other designations. Secular, humanist, atheist, agnostic. You’re right. But it’s a it’s a broader appeal. It’s not just for people who don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God. 

Right. Right. Where do you see your group headed? I guess what I’m asking, what kinds of things are you guys going to be planning on doing? We plan on having more faculty from the university, joining our our talks, and we plan on having them do lectures. And now that I know the CFI has my back. I can have some of their speakers come, come. And we can organize different educational means, you know, educating the public towards our goals. 

So you’re going to invite speakers on the campus to talk about the issues that we all value to to promote the values we all share. Let me ask you if a students listening to point of inquiry right now wants to get involved, what would you tell them to do? What’s the first step? 

Inquire at your school first. If there are any secular groups or any of the kind of you be interested in. If not, you could theoretically become aware of the steps needed take to start a group. And there are other groups such as the CFI that would back you and make it easier for you to start this group. 

So if you want to get involved with Center for Inquiries Campus Outreach Program, go to Campus Inquirer dot org. Eric, thanks for joining me. Point of inquiry. Thanks, T.J.. 

The world is under assault today by religious extremists to invoke their particular notion of God to try and control what others think can do. One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with analysis that cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Regular contributors include Richard Dawkins, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Sam Harris. Their views are reasoned, thought provoking and to some, unpardonable, infuriating. Subscribe to free inquiry today. One year, six controversial issues for 1995. Call one 800 four five eight one three six six or visit us on the Web at Secular Humanism, Dawg. 

And now it’s time for that speech by Derek Ruscio that he presented to the 70 plus students that the Center for Inquiry brought to Amherst, New York, for the 10th anniversary celebration of our campus outreach program. Derek speech garnered a standing ovation from the students and the community leaders who attended the conference. And it’s our pleasure to bring it to you now. Paul Kurtz does the introduction. 

Thank you. 

I’ve been sitting in on the various meeting this morning, and I especially enjoyed lunch because I was confronted by the notion that there are no objective moral standards. All principles are subject to which I really enjoyed that challenge. And it’s important that we engage in a quarry. And of course, I disagreed with those three. And gentlemen, if I can call up such, that’s not a subjective statement. No, it’s not. 

But any any case, what happened about the history of Campus Freethought Alliance? I was invited to Amherst College and we was Amherst. Williams College. Williams College in Amherst, Massachusetts. We had someone once who we invited to Amherst, New York, and he called me. I said, where are you? He says, Amherst, Massachusetts. I said, you got the wrong state. In a case, I went up there and there was a doubter’s club. And these kids on their own were engage in inquiry. And they invited me to speak. And I was very thrilled. And I came back and I said, wow, we have to do that everywhere. So that’s where the idea of a campus group emerged. And we invited various students and the leading one was our next speaker to come. And they spent a very heavy weekend as Herry member, knocking out a statement and formulating a plan of action. And so this I took from the wall in the hall. It’s called a declaration of necessity. And I think our next speaker was the main inspiration, though others, I’m sure, got into the act. And it doesn’t look like a camel. It looks the product of a committee is very eloquent. And so it says we as representatives of various student skeptical. Secondly, humanist, atheists, agnostic and Freethought campus organizations have assembled out of concern as members of a small but significant minority. We often have been focused to reside in a social environment. Kostic to where it needs interests and convictions instead of diminishing opposition to free thought, is now increasing with ominous rapidity. We have witnessed a resurgence of religious fundamentalism. We have witnessed a growing disdain for science and the flight from reason. We have witnessed a deplorable onslaught by religious factions upon personal liberties and so on. And so they say. And therefore we call upon our fellow students to establish skeptical, secular and freethinking organizations on college and university campus across the land. And the first signer is Derek Carl Rajo and then the signer from Marshall University State University of New York at Buffalo University of Maryland College Park, and someone from Webster University. And I was so thrilled yesterday to meet Jack Rivlin from University of North Dakota. And he said, I feel so much at home here. I feel happy. I said, Why, Jack? He said, Because I feel surrounded by people who I can agree with. And I felt isolated and beleaguered. 

He may not have said that, but I use that as a metaphor about what’s happening in North Dakota. 

At long last, I can breathe some fresh air. Is Jack here, Jack? I told them I would make some remarks, I guess he figured he better skip. 

But I don’t know. 

But tell him about that. In any case, our next speaker was a bright student at Harvard University and he founded the student skeptics. What does the secular society of Harvard and of course, Harvard is well regarded in many quarters, as you know. And so we’re very thrilled. And so we invited him along with others and they really worked very hard. This was 10 years ago. He since graduated. He’s become a lawyer with a law firm in New York City. And he’s been just elected to the board of directors of the Center for Inquiry under the principle that he really got things going 10 years ago. And he will continue to do that on the board. But this is the first such organization in the history of this country that has survived 10 years and has succeeded thus far. We don’t have it yet. Our great universities and colleges are secular bastions, many of them, majority of them, open to these ideas. And when you go on campus the first day you find the campus or crusade for Christ, you find Hillal, you’ll find the Muslim students, you find Nouman centers. There may be dozens of such groups, but no secular humanist table. And so that was our great hope. And so here we are 10 years later. We have a long way to go. But in any case, I want to introduce you to the first president and the founding inspiration of the campus Freethought Alliance, which has changed its name to the Center for Inquiry on campus. Derrick Rajjo. 

Well, thank you, Paul, for that very, very kind and very generous introduction, and I have to tell you that I haven’t actually looked at the declaration of necessity for a while now, but the way that that thing reads, it’s not a shock that I became a lawyer. But I want to thank I want to thank you and D.J., for all of your colleagues here at the Center for Inquiry for inviting me here today on this very special and personally meaningful occasion. As Paula said, this is the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Center for Inquiry on campus, formerly known as the Campus Freethought Alliance. And I had the honor and the privilege of serving as the organization’s first president in 10 years ago. I was among those seven college students who gathered here at the center to lay the groundwork for what we hoped would be an enduring and pioneering student movement. And we were full of great hope. But none of us was really certain that that movement would successfully take root and flourish. And I can’t tell you how moving it is for me to look out into this audience at all of you and so many of you who have taken that movement a decade later and who have taken it and carried it onward and made it your own. So I want to thank you all for that. And I would like to use this occasion to look back with you at where we have come from. And hopefully in that process, we can gain some sense of where we might find ourselves 10 years from now. After you, the student leaders of the secular and and humanist movements of tomorrow have have shepherded it well into the new century. In the summer of 1996, I was preparing to enter my sophomore year of college, and I probably have a better recollection of that time than most of the students here. So if you allow me, I’ll take us all back to that year. In 1996, scientists cloned Dolly the sheep and a computer chess program defeated Garry Kasparov for the first time. And the pope finally admitted that evolution was, well, something more than a hypothesis. And in the World Series, the New York Yankees defeated the Atlanta Braves four to two. While in the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys coasted to victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 19 evident. 

We have a lot of Pittsburgh fans in the audience. 

My condolences. 

1996 saw the death of the great Carl Sagan and the world also bid farewell to Ella Fitzgerald, Tupac Shakur and Tiny Tim and bookstore’s Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes hit the shelves, Seinfeld ruled television, and Britney Spears was doing whatever it was she was doing on the Mickey Mouse Club and movie theaters audience. 

Audiences laughed nervously at the Coen brothers dark comedy Fargo. On the theater stage, The Vagina Monologues entertains and on the international stage. Amazing developments were taking place. South Africa announced a new constitution. France ended nuclear testing in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu brought the Likud Party back to power in Afghanistan. 

The Taliban seize the capital city of Kabul. 

And in America, we secularists could sense that 1996 was a pivotal year. The process of cultural and political polarization that would culminate in today’s turmoil was at its beginning. Zealots and religious conservatives on one side and secularists and liberal theologians on the other were locked in a bitter struggle over our cultural identity and future in the sense of instability was palpable. Both secularists and religionists could see that our culture was rapidly approaching one of those proverbial forks in the road, and we would soon be forced to choose which road to follow. Now, for religion, it’s looking down each road. One was a path that America was destined to follow. It was a path to paradise, a path that led backwards to a forgotten time when Christianity was recognized as the one true American faith. Before atheists and feminists and homosexuals existed. And the other road was a short path to sin, decay and destruction. But we freethinkers saw those two roads very differently. We recognize the first road as a dangerous mistake, a return to an imaginary age when church ruled state with beneficence. But in reality, that road was a blind alley, way to darkness, enforced conformity where our public policy would be guided by ignorance rather than science. And we’re tolerance would rapidly give way to religious correctness. And the second road, the road that the religion is shunned, was the only choice and the right choice. And that road led to an America where religious intolerance would wither and die, where every woman or man would have the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choosing. But which Robi would take was far from clear now. 1996 was a time of transition. It was nine years since George H.W. Bush declared that he didn’t no atheist should be considered citizens and that they’re not patriots because this nation is one nation under God. By 1996, that event was receding into distant memory. The first President Bush yielded the Oval Office to a Baptist Democrat who consulted pop spiritualists and a wife who told the healing power of prayer. And we students knew that it was not a time to be complacent. All of us sensed a gathering threat to science and secularism on our campuses. Polls in 1996 showed that over half of Americans regarded creationism as a viable alternative to fact. And between November 1995 and March 1997, five state legislatures considered anti evolution laws. Six state party platforms called for the introduction of creationism into the science classroom, and two state school boards adopted anti evolution standards. Religious conservatives nationwide fought bitterly to deny students critical sex education and indefinite vill Kentucky in 1996. A school superintendent who doubted the Big Bang ordered pages of the school’s textbook glued together. For the first time, we found that the influence of religious fundamentalism and anti science was spilling beyond high school campuses. The hard core religious right had finally asserted itself at colleges and universities, territory they wouldn’t dare to tread. Just a few years earlier, and school funding was the major issue in 1996, just one year earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled in a five four decision that for the first time in history, taxpayers money could be used to support sectarian religious proselytizing. A born again Christian named Ron Rosenberger had sued the University of Virginia because it refused to give him public funds to start an evangelical student newspaper. And the Supreme Court mandated that the state run universities subsidize his evangelism with money from its Student Activities Fund, and backing that lawsuit was a group of right wing Christian lawyers called the Alliance Defense Fund. And that fund was founded by people like Jim Dobson and Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ. Now, not long after this narrow victory for the religious right, a Christian law student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, named Scott Southworth brought another lawsuit. This time, religious conservatives objected that their money was going to liberal student organizations that didn’t fit their narrow view of morality. And guess who represented Scott Southworth in that lawsuit? The Alliance Defense Fund, the same lawyers who argued for mandatory access to money for religious groups after crying viewpoint discrimination to get their hands on public funds. They turned around and claimed forced speech when it came to money for a campus women’s center, a gay and lesbian club and a student environmentalist group. Now, given the Alliance Defense Fund’s involvement in both the Rosenberger and the South Worth cases, it was very clear to us that this was not about protecting religious liberty, but about shutting down debate on our campuses. And we watched with worry as that case wound its way through the courts. Surviving summer of nineteen ninety six, it was clear something had to be done and it was with a sense of purpose and urgency that I arrived at the center that August at the invitation of Paul Kurtz. And I met here with six other college students and we found we all share the same concerns. Together, we sat down to chart a course for the future of science, rationalism and secularism on our nation’s campuses. And we broadcast our message urging anyone who would listen to join our cause. Within hours, the responses started pouring in from Oregon and Minnesota, Chicago and Boston. From Alabama, New Mexico, Kansas and Kentucky. From Madison, Wisconsin. Where is Scott? Southwards, controversy was brewing. And before we knew what was happening, we heard from students outside our nation’s borders, from Australia, Canada, Moscow and Tel Aviv. And suddenly what we had envisioned as a national association turned into an international movement. And out of that was born the campus Freethought Alliance. What today we call CFI on campus. For three years, I worked with many students like yourselves from across the country defending science and secularism and building communities and working to raise awareness about the real world consequences of beliefs about the world to come. And that is where things stood when I graduated and pass the torch to my successor. 

So what has happened since 1996? 

Well, despite a few bumps and bruises, CFI on campus has not only survived, it has strengthened and expanded under a new generation of leaders. The organization got a new name. It is no longer the campus Freethought Alliance. It has since shed that appellation that cause visions of death stars. And he walks to dance in our heads. 

And Paul Kurtz turned 80. 

And with the help of our friends from legal and scientific communities, we secularists won a few battles. Scott Southworth lost his case in a unanimous Supreme Court decision. Intelligent design, as you know, has received rebukes from federal court and from a handful of state governments. And the Mickey Mouse Club went off the air and Britney Spears was never heard from again. But along the way, something else happened. In 2000, a reformed alcoholic and born again Christian was elected or appointed or some might say, anointed president of the United States. And his closely divided reelection in 2004 especially emboldened his hard right supporters who perceive whether accurately or not that the president’s one percent victory at the ballot box was decided by so-called value voters. The brazen fanatics that his own father and people like Lee Atwater called extra chromosome conservatives. 

And since then, the situation for secularists in America has deteriorated rapidly under his faith based initiatives. President Bush has funneled billions of dollars of taxpayers money to churches, more or less to do with it what they see fit. We saw the divisive appointment of a right wing Christian Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who allegedly anointed himself with oil whenever sworn into public office. And like a good Christian American, Ashcroft blinded his religious fanaticism with patriotic consumers. And then I’m told that he used Crisco in place of holy oil. So I am told now Ashcroft had a very interesting, rather un-American concept of freedom. He said that freedom is not the grant of any government or document, but is our endowment from God. And the way that he ran the Justice Department, one got the sense that freedom meant the right to obey the police during his first crucial days in office. Ashcroft was true to his religious convictions instead of addressing the imminent terrorist threats identified by the preceding administration. He wasted time organizing office, Bible study sessions and morning prayer meetings and covering up nude works of public art instead of chasing terror suspects or hardened criminals. He chased his old religious obsessions. He ordered the DEA to revoke medical licenses of doctors in Oregon who prescribed drugs to terminally ill patients under the state’s physician assisted suicide measure. And he squandered resources on raids of cancer and AIDS patients in California who use medical marijuana under state law. And we don’t need to mention what happened at the Justice Department since they use the war on terror as a blank check to run roughshod over civil liberties and human rights. Now, outside the Justice Department, things are possibly worse. Many administration appointees seem to have no qualifications beyond the religious views they share with the president. One of Bush’s political hacks and NASA, who had zero scientific training, was forced to resign after we found out he was censoring scientists from talking about the big bang. W. David Hager, the anti-abortion activist obstetrician that Bush appointed to the FDA, had publicly declared that premarital sex is sinful and any attempt to separate Christian truth from secular truth is dangerous. He headed the FDA Advisory Committee on Reproductive Health Drugs until last year, and the problem extends well beyond the federal executive branch. In 2004, the Texas Republican Party issued a platform affirming that the United States of America is a Christian nation. The indited governor of Kentucky, Ernie Fletcher, recently described intelligent design in a letter to scientists as self-evident truth. This April, he celebrated Kentucky’s 9th annual Diversity Day by reversing protection for discrimination for gay and lesbian state employees. And South Dakota criminalized abortion this year without even making exceptions for victims of rape or incest. If our legislative and executive branches are in bad shape, the state of the federal judiciary is outright appalling. In 2002, the conservative Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a talk at Chicago Divinity School where he intimated that our government does not derive its moral authority from we the people. Now, this might come as a surprise to you if you’ve read the Constitution. Where does our government’s authority come from then? Scalia’s answer from God. And how does Scalia know that this is where a government gets its authority? Because he ran it in the Bible. Now, Scalia has many interesting views. His dissent to the 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas that decriminalized gay sex. Scalia warned that this would have a horrifying consequence. States could no longer outlaw masturbation. 

It’s in his written dissent. 

And remember that he is the man the president cited at his as his ideal judge, the man his appointees would emulate. And last year, President Bush kept his campaign promise by swearing in not one, but two Supreme Court justices who fit Scalia’s mold and the hundreds of lifetime appointments Bush has made to the federal courts at the district and appellate level. 

All of it ensure that the erosion of the wall of separation will only accelerate and may not reverse within the next 50 years. In short. Since 1996, religion in America has run amuck. And if American faith based policy weren’t enough to convince us that religious belief can have practical consequences, the shocking events of September 11th brought home to all of us the terrible truth that in the real world, beliefs affect actions. 

Now, the religionist looking at all of this sees no problem. In fact, given the modern world struggle with radical Islam, he might think that an infusion of old time religion into politics is a good thing for him. The real problem is with people like you and me, the humanists and secularists who simply won’t shut up and let them control other people’s lives. The most common grievance I heard from religionists when I was a student activist was that atheists are too pushy and impolite, that we don’t show proper respect for religious belief. The picture they paint is one of simple, good natured people of faith going about their daily lives and practicing their religion in peace and doing good. While godless boys, usually elitist intellectuals, intrude into their innermost beliefs uninvited, hold every public expression of faith and attempt to abolish religion by force. But this picture is a fantasy. What the religionless is really after is not respect for his belief, but submission and acquiescence to it. Because in today’s America, we have come to expect that stating a belief founded on faith should shut down all debate. It guarantees that no one will dare question that opinion, no matter how absurd it is, and no matter how horrific its implications. And this is more than intellectually dishonest. It’s antithetical to the very idea of participatory democracy. If any of us makes a controversial statement about public policy, we expect to be challenged. We expect to be called to defend our opinion. But statements founded on faith get a free pass to enter our political dialog naked and unsupported with 100 percent immunity from criticism. Religionless who grumble about atheist bullying might have a point. If we lived in a parallel universe, it would be one thing if religion in America were truly a private matter. It would be one thing if religionists respected the Constitution and honor the separation of church and state. But that is not the America we live in today. Religionless will tell you that we have forced faith from the public square, but our public square is flooded with religion and we are drowning in it. And now that it’s married to politics, it influences almost every facet of our lives. How many young Americans this year will become infected with Esti D because of the abstinence only sham impose our schools because of religion? How many American high schoolers will receive substandard education due to the religious desire to teach manufactured controversies in our science classrooms? How many gay and lesbian teens will commit suicide this year because of the intolerance and psychological abuse they suffer at the hands of value voters? And how many children of gay and lesbian parents will go without health care because of perverse and unwholesome family values? How many young women in America will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term because a speck of amino acids might someday grow up to be a Christian? And how much longer will we wait for cures to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes, cancer and paralysis and a host of other debilitating diseases because of the unproven faith that a mindless, brainless blob of cells can feel pain? And how many will die because those cures will have come too late? Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that your disbelief is offensive. Are they questioning religion is impolite or intrusive? They have forced their religion so far into the public square that it distorts our public policy to the point where their religion is bad for our health when they transform religious opinions into hard policy. And when monkish ignorance costs lives, we have the right to hold those opinions under scrutiny. 

These are terribly dark days for secularism in America, and they are most certainly the darkest days in my living memory. By any measure, secularists faced greater challenges in 2006 than they did in 1996. And increasingly, our country seems headed, at least for the moment. Down the first of those two roads that I mentioned. But we would be wrong to lose hope this time of great challenge. Like so many others before, it is also a time of great opportunity. 

The religious right’s aggression is uniting our community, as I’m sure you know, the latest poll from the University of Akron put the number of Americans who explicitly identify as atheist, agnostic or secular at over 10 percent. And that is a remarkable increase since 1996. And it provides us an opportunity we cannot afford to dismiss today. The religious right is at its zenith yet. Thirty years ago, they were in much the same position we find ourselves in today. Before the 1970s and 1980s, nobody took them seriously. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network was a tiny UHF station in Portsmouth, Virginia. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University was filing for bankruptcy in the wake of fraud charges, and the Christian right was consigned to the margins of political discourse. And no one except for the religious right ever dreamed that within a few decades they would influence all three branches of government. And all it took was the will to organize, to set aside differences and to stand up and be heard. And we can do better. To borrow a line from Lionel Trilling, the religious right has no ideas. All they have are irritable mental gestures. 

And on our side we have reason. 

We have true compassion, a compassion that doesn’t fail or desert anyone because they have the wrong race or the wrong income or because they love the wrong person. And we have a positive vision to offer, one that rejects fear and ignorance and paranoia that feed religious zealotry, a vision that speaks to all humanity. Young and old, rich and poor, regardless of race, class, sex and all of those meaningless distinctions that unscrupulous politicos use to divide us. I want to thank you for listening and for the incredible work you’re doing on your campuses. And if you take anything from this talk on the 10th anniversary of this organization’s founding, realize that you are part of a struggle that transcends the borders of our campuses. And that struggle is more than a philosophical debate about theology and science. As important and useful as that is, because religion affects all of our lives, whether we are college students facing campus crusaders or working people threatened by misguided public policy, founded on delusion and the interactions you have and the ideas you share with your classmates today will have an impact on society tomorrow. I can promise you and with your energy and your commitment, we can not only stand against this tide, we can turn it and make the 21st century the century of American secularism. 

Ladies and gentlemen, that is why we invited Derek to this conference. Thank you again, Derek. 

Get active with the Center for Inquiry and join our growing network of activists to work with us to advance science and reason across America, participate in action alerts. Letter writing campaigns. And stay up to date on center for inquiry events happening in your community and across the country to join. Visit our Web site at w w w dot point of inquiry, dawg, and click get active. 

I am joined on Point of Inquiry now by Adrià Updike, a Clemson University student studying astrophysics. And we’re going to talk about the role of Freethought and skeptic’s groups on campuses. Adrià is here this weekend joining other students from around North America at the Center for Inquiry’s 10th anniversary celebration of our campus outreach program, what we call CFI Eye on Campus Adrià. Thanks for being on point of inquiry. Thanks for inviting me. So Adrià, you were here this weekend. Long sessions on student activism and training, student leadership, media relations, event planning. We had a lot of talk about resources CFI makes available free to campus groups across North America. Would you think we can? 

Oh, I had a fantastic time. There’ve been a lot of great speakers and we’ve had some very interesting seminars on how to get a campus group started, how to get people involved and all. That’s very useful because I’m just starting up our campus group. 

You’re just starting your campus group at Clemson. Question why start a Freethought, a skeptic group on a campus? 

Well, I’ve noticed a definite deficit in critical thought and reasoning on campus. There are quite a few religious groups on campus, but there don’t seem to be any outlets for secular humanist or atheist or agnostic students or pretty much anyone who would just like to discuss the impact of critical thinking and logical reasoning on campus. 

Wow. So you’re saying even at a great university like Clemson, we’ve had students this weekend from Harvard and Dartmouth, Yale, UC Berkeley, all over the country. And you’re telling me that at these colleges there’s a dearth of discussion and debate on these central questions. You said there’s a definite deficit of critical thinking even at universities. 

I’m definitely noticing that people seem unwilling to question some of their basic beliefs. And I think that’s something that we should definitely encourage on campuses. 

Why? Why not just live and let live? Why not just let a person who believes that belief, what we might consider an unbelievable belief? Why not just let them go their merry way? 

Well, you know, if they were willing to just believe it in private and not try to force it on anybody else. I don’t think anybody would have a problem with that. What I’m concerned with is the growing anti science movement in our schools. I’m definitely concerned with education as a future scientist and the future, hopefully university professor. And I, I don’t want to see our schools being taken over by anti science and pseudo science people who who want to introduce nonscientific concepts in the science classroom. 

Has it been hard? I mean, have you had a lot of challenges as you begin exploring starting a campus free thought, a skeptic group, a center for inquiry campus group at Clemson? 

Well, fortunately, many people have heard of it yet. Well, I guess what I just started the paperwork a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to raise much awareness. Now it’s the middle of the summer. Nobody’s on campus. I’m anticipating to get a bit of backlash when we start up again. I know there are quite a few Christian groups on campus as well as a few other religions. And the last time one of these groups, it started up a few years ago, they had a few problems with those groups getting started. 

It’s interesting you said the last time one of these groups started up a few years ago. Well, it seems to me the nature of these groups is that they come and go. I’ve said it’s like organizing at a bus stop. So you’re at Clemson. There used to be a Freethought. A skeptic group no longer exists. Now you’re starting a new one. That’s right. Where do you see your group headed? What kinds of things are you guys going to be involved in at Clemson? 

Well, I’d definitely like to bring in speakers and encourage debate and panel discussions. I know quite a few people in the area and in the country who’ll be willing to come in and do talks on the importance of critical thinking. The existence of God, whether or not atheists can be moral, the paranormal and science, I think would definitely bring in a large crowd. And I’d like to encourage debate on campus panel discussions and just generally get people thinking and try to get them to critically analyze their faith. I’m definitely going to try to take advantage of the Bureau of Speakers at the Center for Inquiry, and I’m very happy that they’ll be able to help me underwrite the expenses to bring speakers on campus and encourage critical thinking. 

Well, Adrià, thanks for being on point of inquiry. Thank you, T.J. And good luck with the group at Clemson. Thank you. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. What one adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community. Who could have imagined that reality would need defenders? The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values. By becoming a friend of the center today, whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry Magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine or Center for Inquiry on Campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot. Center for Inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting w w w that center for inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week for another episode where we examine some of the central beliefs of our society to get involved with an online discussion about the topics in today’s episode, Campus Outreach for secularists and Freethinkers, Skeptics and Humanists. Go to W w w dot CFI dash forums dot org at CFD forums. You can talk with other people from around the country who are interested in the point of view that the Center for Inquiry advances. And you could also go back and forth with others about Derek’s great keynote address. Views expressed on point of inquiry don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiries. Music is written and composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailed. Contributors to today’s show include Thomas Donnelly, Sarah Jordan and Lauren Becker. I’m your host, DJ Grothe V.. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.