With the revised direction for UnitedCoR to nurture and provide support to local CoRs and their cooperating groups, we are making new efforts to go to as many places where local, excellent work is taking place. The Texas Secular Convention was a great success, drawing a crowd from around the state, including a rally and lobby day at the Texas capitol. Given the recent rhetoric coming from some Texas policy-makers, it is important that vocal nontheistic representation is displayed. It was during this convention that we learned of some strong grassroots work being conducted by the San Antonio CoR—most noticeably with its partnership with Freethinkers Association of Central Texas (FACT) and San Antonio MAAF. FACT and San Antonio MAAF have their work cut out for them: they have been providing an open arena and a place where people from various backgrounds have an opportunity to discuss their experiences as coming out as nontheists, also providing for theistic people to have non-confrontational and non-judgmental conversations with nontheists. This work of untangling the layers of societal misperception and misinformation has seen substantial growth in this work, both numerically and socially, in that those in attendance feel more comfortable and trusting in each others’ company, thereby removing misconceptions and suspicion. For those on the military base, this work started as an alternative to the options of nontheists going to a religious meeting on Sunday or being assigned extra duties.
While this work has been taking place in central Texas, we were invited down to the Rio Grande border to meet with a CoR that’s in their formation stage, being assisted by the guidance and support from the Dallas/Fort Worth CoR. Here, we found a vibrant community with a large group of university students as its catalyst. These students are actively campaigning to ensure that an appropriate, honest and scientific sex education curriculum would be presented in the Rio Grande Valley—a place where, we were told, no such curriculum is taught (in a high-teenage pregnancy area, no less). We were also introduced to an openly-nontheist hospital chaplain, working for the Baylor Medical group (Texas Baptists), whose work not only provided pastoral care for those in the hospital, but also served to educate the theistic chaplains regarding how to provide authentic pastoral care to non-theistic patients.
Two weeks later, Northwest Arkansas CoR and Central Arkansas CoR assisted with the Reason in the Rock conference. Over 150 people attended the conference, which began a few days after an Arkansas lawmaker put forward a bill to place a 10 Commandments monument on the state capitol grounds. There was excitement at the conference: new organizations being represented at booths, new families attended the conference and saw that they weren’t alone as nontheists, and a diverse group of speakers and presenters helped to draw in the crowd. As soon as the successful conference drew to a close, the hosts announced that plans had already started for Reason in the Rock 2016, scheduled for March 12—13, 2016.
From Arkansas, UnitedCoR’s next stop was the Louisiana (Statewide) CoR, which is also forming with assistance and guidance from Dallas/Fort Worth CoR. Our meeting started with non-stop raucous laughter as local-based, Milwaukee-born professional comic Richard Halasz (pictured above) opened an event that was successful in adding more local groups to the growing list of cooperating partners. The visit to Louisiana concluded with an event sponsored by the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, where a local professor from Tulane—Sidney Pulitzer—gave a presentation that advocated a call for a new Constitutional Convention. Some attendees were appalled with his suggestions, with some shouting “Nullification!” and “I prefer our Bill of Rights” and “You’re providing false dichotomies” during his presentation. Needless to say, the chances that he signed many of his new books were slim, but it served as a reminder that the question “What’s it got to do with me?” has a clear reminder that if we don’t get involved in our local communities, there will be others who will try to infringe on our rights.
There was one final place that UnitedCoR visited—somewhere outside of Gulf Coast CoR’s Mobile, AL but I’ll save this one for another time. There is something taking place here that we will go and check on again in the coming months, since their collaborative “interpath” community outreach has only started to blossom. When I asked to participate with local groups with ‘boots on the ground,’ it’s been a real pleasure to see nontheistic footprints all over the place during these travels and UnitedCoR stands ready to assist your groups to ensure that you get the positive recognition that you deserve.
–UnitedCoR’s Executive Director