Delivered March 24, 2012 by Todd Stiefel at the Reason Rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Introduction by Dave Silverman:
Alright ladies and gentlemen, there are several kinds of activists out there. One kind of activist will come to Washington D.C. in a rally. One kind of activist will come to Washington D.C. in a rally in the rain. But, one kind of activist will come to Washington D.C., in the rally, in the rain and stay ‘til the end. You are my people! I’m here to introduce to you a personal friend of mine, Mr. Todd Stiefel. Now, if you had a good time at this event, it is because of Mr. Todd Stiefel, whose foundation donated a cool quarter-million dollars to fund this event and bring Bad Religion here. And, they’re going to play a full set coming up. And, we’re not done yet! But for now, I want to introduce to you my personal friend, Mr. Todd Stiefel!
Hello. How you doing out there? I just heard that Fox News said, “this is a Rally about pretty much nothing.” Let’s show them that they’re completely wrong.
You see, nearly fifty years ago, not very far from here, there was another rally, another march, In 1963, The March on Washington. The Church is given credit for that event but many people don’t know that was actually a joint effort of both theists and atheists. As a matter of fact, the man who envisioned the rally itself, the man who headed the rally and spoke twice, was A. Phillip Randolph, an atheist, an African-American, and a signer of the Humanist Manifesto II. How about that? Much has changed since that time and it’s because of activism and activists like you. Fifty years ago it was still legal to ban African Americans from sleeping in hotels in this country, and today, a black family now sleeps in the White House! How about that for progress? Enormous progress, but the struggle is not complete.
There’s also been enormous progress for freethinkers. We are no longer burned at the stake of intolerance. We are no longer stoned to death with the rocks of injustice. We are no longer scalded with the brands of the Pope’s inquisitors. No longer are our books burned. Things have changed folks. They can’t burn our Internet! They cannot silence our ideas! But, we have a long way to go.
Today, 94% of American voters would vote for a black person for president, but only 45% would vote for an atheist. Today, we fear for our jobs. Today, we are respected and trusted less than rapists. Today, our donations are rejected by charities who would rather not take our money than fulfill their missions. Today, our activists receive death threats. Today, a majority of Republicans and Democrats believe that you need a belief in God to even be moral. Today, we are shunned by our families and friends, and homeless atheists are created by bigoted parents. You see, we have our rights, but we do not have equality. We must act and demand change!
Discrimination comes from ignorance, and in this case it is ignorance about our beliefs. You see, secular values are American values. Americans believe in truth, love and liberty, and so do we. The flawed values are from our friends over here who preach eternal torture, inequality and hatred. Compare and contrast. We are told freethinkers believe in nothing, but that’s a misunderstanding. We believe in a lot of things; we don’t all believe the same things. I will say for you what I believe we believe in. I can’t speak for you, but I can give my opinion. But, you can give your voice right now. You can tell Fox News what we believe in. I’m going to list some things here that I think we believe in, and I want to hear you. I want your voices to ring out if you agree. So, what do we believe in?
We believe there is no rational basis to discriminate on the basis of race or gender. We believe our sex live are our business, not the government’s. We believe life has the meaning we give it through increasing happiness and decreasing suffering in the world. We believe healthcare is our decision and our doctors’, not the bishops’. We value teaching how to think, not what to think. We value science, over the supernatural, as an explanation for the world around us. We believe, and value, forming opinions based on reason, not authority. We believe moral principles are tested based on their consequences, not on the dictates of ancient books and preachers. We believe we should change our beliefs based on evidence, not make them immune to questions. We believe marriage should be based on love, not hate. And most of all, we believe freedom is based on “We the People”, not “They the Clergy”.
You see, I actually think most religious Americans would agree with those values. We have more in common with them than they may even realize. I’ll give you an example, my wife Diana, right here in the front row, is a Christian. And, she makes the work I do possible every day. Diana, stand up. Give her a hand! Come on stand up. I love you. Thank you! You make it possible, sweetie.
You see, we can disagree on the ideas of God and faith. We don’t have to love each other’s ideas, but we can still love each other! Through hard work, education and that love, we will gain our equality.
Soon, people will see nontheists as equally capable of being moral as theists. Soon, we will be a voting block actively courted by politicians—perhaps that’s started actually. Soon, from California to Mississippi, it will be common for atheists to be elected to Congress. Soon, from North Dakota to South Carolina, Humanism will be seen as a respectable alternative to religion. Soon, across America and across the whole world, there will no longer be a stigma attached to being a freethinker.
But, we need your help. We need your help. We need you to do your part, invest your time, and invest your financial resources. Give to the sponsors of this rally here. Help them help us. We need you to get out and build and develop local communities to provide supportive networks to each other, especially those still questioning their faith(s). The religious have centuries, millennia, of a head start on us—because they killed us—we, now need to make up some lost time.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We must not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” We can be angry about the injustice, but we can’t let it get us down. We have to remain happy, joyful, fun-loving people. We can be the more fun people. We can have the most fun! We don’t have to be repressed by their morality. Let’s live happy, joyful lives. Yet, we can never compromise on our critique of dogma. We need to increase the understanding of who we are by coming out and living openly. This has been the most effective strategy by the LGBT movement. We need to learn from it and emulate it. We need to be humanitarians. We need to do charity work. We need to choose to be good because it feels good, it is the right thing to do, and it will lead to the salvation of humanity, not in the next world, but in this one!
No longer will we let discrimination stand. No longer will we hide what we believe. We believe in truth, integrity, love and honesty. We believe in freedom. We will gain respect as we gain the love of our friends, our family, and our neighbors. We love and we deserve to be loved like anyone else. We are Secular Americans and we will not stop until we have our equality! Thank you!