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CFA Prepares for Pivotal Year

by Chris Mooney

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 14, Number 3.

Very little sleep, a day-to-day competition for the best freethought T-shirt, plenty of Harvard-Yale quips, and calculated mimicry of the Founding Fathers: that about captures the third annual meeting of the Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA). Clearly, a great deal was accomplished.

From July 9-12, 30 students representing 15 universities including Yale, Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Ohio State and SUNY Buffalo met in Amherst, New York for the largest ever CFA conference. Because the conference ran simultaneously with the Center for Inquiry Summer Institute, the students received a free crash-course in Reason in Ethics and Leadership Training. Nonetheless, they also found time and energy to convene for official CFA business, as well as to take a trip to Niagara Falls, have a volleyball party, and attended a humanist wedding. Several students even found time for a trip to Toronto, Ontario. (Incidentally, none of these were elected to CFA office.)

Elections for the CFA Executive Council were held on Saturday, July 11. Only three incumbents had not graduated: Derek Araujo (President, Harvard), Adam Butler (Alabama at Birmingham), and Deidre Conn (Secretary, Marshall). The vacant Executive Council spots were filled by Daniel Farkas (Vice-President, Yale), August Brunsman (Treasurer, Ohio State), David Schummer (Press Coordinator, SUNY Buffalo), Pearl Chan (Harvard), Chris Mooney (Yale), Bill Bishop (Florida), and Paula Duckhorn (College of Lake Country).

Many official CFA policies have also changed. Individuals as well as campus groups will now be admitted as members. The CFA constitution was also considerably revised by students, and an amendment added to provide for a "fast track" press release system.

The crowning event of the conference, however, was the drafting and signing of a Bill of Rights for Unbelievers. The final version of the eleven-point Bill (the number of points was inspired by the film Spinal Tap) was the product of countless revisions, group sessions, and large discussions. The Bill draws attention to a wide spectrum of infringements upon the rights of the non-religious both in the United States and worldwide, and should attract considerable press attention. It will be published in the Fall 1998 issue of Free Inquiry.

At the invitation of Paul Kurtz - who announced that "the Campus Freethought Alliance may be the Council for Secular Humanism's single most important project" - CFA President Derek Araujo delivered a forceful reading of the finished Bill to an assembly of 70 or more during the final Reason in Ethics session on Sunday, July 12. Then, for the formal signing, students assumed a pose from the well-known history painting by John Trumbull, The Signing of the Declaration of Independence, which appears on the back of the two dollar bill. Derek Araujo penned his name first, and in huge letters so that, as he later remarked, "even God will be able to read it." The signed Bill of Rights for Unbelievers was released to the press on July 17, 1998, precisely 150 years after the signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Women at Seneca Falls.

Later, the students met to plan strategies and activities for the upcoming year. Most significantly, the CFA will attempt to become far more politically active. It will select focal topics, such as the proposed Flag-Burning Amendment and graduation prayer, and address them in press releases and public statements. After the example set by the Bill of Rights, the CFA may also choose to publicly protest the religious messages in the Pledge of Allegiance and on U.S. currency, and to track church/state violations and the harassment of freethinkers on college campuses.

But for every protest, the CFA also plans a celebration or social occasion. Several nationally coordinated events were discussed, including a Freethought Awareness Week, demonstrations on National Banned Books Week, and above all a Friday the 13th anti-superstition bash. On Friday the 13th this November, CFA groups nationwide will throw parties involving lots of stepping on cracks, walking under ladders, opening umbrellas indoors, and perhaps black cats. The parties will culminate in the synchronized breaking of up to 50 square feet of mirror at midnight, Eastern Standard Time. After the glass is cleaned up, more refreshments will be served.

But, all kidding aside, the CFA conference was very successful, both because of what the students achieved but also because of what they planned. In particular, the significance of the Bill of Rights for Unbelievers cannot be understated. Freethinkers today are the final minority, the final culture abused with almost total impunity - and it has become clear that we must force people to pay attention when our rights are trampled on. For this reason, the deliberate parallels drawn by the CFA with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Seneca Falls Convention were anything but mere fluff. The point is that our liberties are still at stake, and some of us are still fighting the good fight for them.

The conference was also successful because the CFA embraced creative and ambitious plans for future events which cannot fail to attract further attention and extend our influence nationwide. The initial clamor following the launch of the CFA has died away, and will only be revived by further and more impressive achievements. The Bill of Rights certainly counts as an enormous step by the CFA toward significance and permanence; plans to become more media-aggressive and politically-active are also promising; and it is great that we haven't forgotten how much fun it is to be a freethinker.

Still, our achievements to date remain relatively minor. Only when there is a Freethought Center for every Newman or Slifka Center on college campuses can the CFA rest easy. And the 1998-1999 school-year will be pivotal. The question is, can the impact be sustained? Will the CFA be able to change more than a handful of college student lives for the better?

I am optimistic. We have the leaders, the drive, the creativity and strategies. We have the support of the Council for Secular Humanism. When the CFA meets next in Chicago in May, 1999, expect to hear about hundreds of students demonstrating and stamping currency. That is, if Harvard and Yale kiss and make up, and if we all survive Friday the 13th.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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