Washington, DC, April 1, 2010
Humanists across the nation are still reeling from a surprising refusal of their offered donation of $20,000 to underwrite an alternate prom replacing one canceled by a local school district after a lesbian student asked that she be allowed to attend with her girlfriend. As reported in today’s New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi has rejected the assistance of the AHA due to its nontheistic worldview. Said the ACLU spokesperson, “Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist.’ These Southern Baptist types are mainly what makes up the town of Fulton.”
With that letter it seemed that the AHA may have earned the distinction of being the first organization to be too controversial for the ACLU. However, the ACLU seems to recognize the shortcomings of these comments, and has since apologized.
“We accept the apology, but we feel that an apology is owed not just to us but to the people of Mississippi,” said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. “To suggest that the good people of Mississippi are so unenlightened that they can’t be accepting and welcoming to the goodwill of a humanist group is insulting to them, not just to us. We are confident that our involvement would have been met with warmth and Southern hospitality.”
“There has been some confusion about alleged ‘conditions’ placed on our contribution,” added AHA’s executive director Roy Speckhardt in responding to ACLU-MS’s Kristy Bennett’s statement that the AHA attached conditions to its gift that would provide difficulty for organizers of the event. “We have no conditions other than the expectation that we will receive the same level of recognition as other sponsors donating similar amounts. If anyone was providing a condition, it was the ACLU chapter not the AHA, in suggesting that we contribute anonymously.” Speckhardt referred to the spokesperson’s statement that “If you would still like to contribute we would be thrilled, but I understand if you do not feel comfortable contributing a donation that you will not be recognized for.”
“There’s no reason that our humanism should be treated as something to be hidden,” responded Speckhardt. “We’re always proud to be standing on the side of love and acceptance, instead of fear and prejudice. This could be another example of how we can be good without God.” said Speckhardt. “We still hope that the event will bring appreciation of the diversity within our society and encourage others to embrace it as a positive value that can continue to forge progress for all Americans.”
Todd and Diana Stiefel made a $20,000 grant available to the AHA for the purpose of sponsoring this prom in Itawamba County.
Humanists and freethinkers have a history of speaking up for the rights of all. The AHA was among the first to support civil rights, equal pay for equal work and the right of same-sex couples to marry. Recently the AHA launched the LGBT Humanist Council to advance equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families (www.lgbthumanists.org).
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org ) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.