Message from the President, Progressive Atheists Inc

Since its inception, Progressive Atheists’ (PA) goals have supported and promoted the principles of a secular society. We value and work together with various groups with a view to bettering our society on issues of equality surrounding gender, race and sexual orientation, to name a few. We are pleased to join the Secular Coalition of Australia (SECOA) and hope to further realise the common goals we share.

The 2011 Census indicated that more people are identifying themselves as having no religious affiliation at all, the percentage increasing from 18.7% in 2006 to 22.3% in 2011 These are encouraging numbers, reinforcing our belief that atheists in general support the separation of church and state. Equally, it is very encouraging to see that, irrespective of religious affiliation, the vast majority of Australians are in support of this secular principle. Early this year and in view of this, we compiled a table listing Federal Parliamentary Members’ past voting records on same sex marriage, cloning and RU-486. Though we do not endorse any political parties, we believe voters should be informed on where their politicians stand on these important issues. We support SECOA’s efforts in developing a voting scorecard for the upcoming federal election.

pic 1 for PA article

Atheists, humanists, skeptics and others at Darwin Day 2013 BBQ in Melbourne

SECOA’s 10 Point Plan draws together many of our own aims and we welcome it. We have posted the Plan on a sister Melbourne Atheist Facebook group site, as well as on  our own website and will continue to update these and encourage further discussion between members.

For the past few years, our members have dedicated their time to setting up Meetup groups around Victoria to enable atheists and freethinkers to contact each other and open up dialogue regarding local and other issues of concern. PA has also been holding regular monthly meetings and organising events such as Darwin Day and a Zombie Easter Parade. We were proud to have been one of several groups involved in supporting the Sean Faircloth Tour in Melbourne in March this year.

On June 1st groups from around Victoria convened in Melbourne for our inaugural Atheist Conference. Examples of member concerns raised for discussion were: religious discrimination towards women and minorities, religious tax exemptions, labelling of Halal / Kosher meats, and the lack of women participating in the atheist / freethought community.

PA pic for SCANZ 2

Monthly Atheists’ First Friday in the Pub

This June, one of our members has been fortunate enough to attend the Secular Women’s Conference in the US and the Empowering Women Conference in Dublin. PA is eagerly awaiting her return and we are hoping to gain a glimpse of, and learn from the work done by, other great secular women on issues of women’s rights and inclusivity in a secular society.

We are also seeking to have a larger presence in local universities, with the distribution of leaflets in stalls during Orientation Week. PA encourages atheists and other freethinkers to participate in and join the atheist, skeptic, rationalist or secular groups on university campuses around the country.

On the first week of every month, we issue a bulletin in print form, as well as on our website. Our bulletin records the news and updates on current and upcoming events, as well as other points of interest. These are distributed amongst our members and passed on to new and prospective members.

Progressive Atheists Inc, will continue to identify issues and support ongoing projects in line with SECOA’s 10 Point Plan.

Changing the World: Starting Down Under

Congratulations on the formation of the Secular Coalition of Australia!

Sean Faircloth

In 2012, Dr Meredith Doig and Rod Bower of the Rationalist Society of Australia contacted me about speaking in Australia and New Zealand. Initially, I was uncertain about making such a trip – after all, my book, Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It!, is about a strategic plan to rid American society of theocratic policies. My book is based largely on my experience as an American politician, lobbyist and political organizer. Also, I thought that since I work for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, people really would want Richard Dawkins himself – not me. Finally, I assumed that a secular speaking tour of Australia was redundant because it is perfect – they have no such problems Down Under. Right?

Nevertheless, Meredith Doig – perhaps the single most determined and well-organized volunteer secular activist I have met – kept answering questions and educating me. I continued on with my schedule, speaking and organizing on other issues, but, bit by bit, I came to recognize serious problems of church-state separation in Australia and New Zealand.

Victorian_events_with_5_logosSo, a trip was planned that led to my meeting a remarkable group of activists with a new focus for Australian and New Zealand secular events (after all, they’d already hosted wonderfully successful conferences). Our focus (I did feel I became at least an honorary Australian and New Zealander) was on public policy and the issues and laws unique to these countries that require a clear, strong secular response.

In my book, I have outlined a Ten Point Vision of a Secular America, the strategy of which is to concentrate on the human harm of theocratic policies, thus capturing the moral high ground as we organize to change these policies. The Australians and New Zealanders – I’m humbled and honored to say – have taken this concept and drafted their own respective policy visions specific to their nations. They are currently organizing for policy change under that banner and this new national secular activist effort is the product.

One gets a flavor of our shared secular views from this discussion at the Sydney Opera House with the great A.C. Grayling, along with two well-known Australian representatives of a more religious bent: MP Pru Goward and Father Frank Brennan:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfq5nO7xj4A

If you want to understand how to make secularist and freethought activism successful, meet the organizers I worked with in Australia and New Zealand:

The wonderful team, under Meredith’s leadership from Melbourne, guided me through numerous speaking engagements, some of which are scheduled to be posted on the Richard Dawkins YouTube channel soon.  This team included Anthony Englund in Sydney, Rod Bower in several locations, Nicole Eckersly on media, and Jaye Christie of the Humanist Society of WA in Perth (along with her team of excellent co-organizers, including Diana Blackie, Stevie Modern and Erwin Swasbrook) – all people who are filled with wit, charm, and give me hope about our world. To be blunt, I’ve had more than one encounter as a speaker with event organizers that were, well, not organized. This team in Australia, however, was an example of how it is done.

I then had the opportunity to travel on to New Zealand, where I had the pleasure of working with Judy de Leeuwe of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, along with their President, John Murphy, Chris Cavanagh, John Timpson and Clive Holland in Napier, and Mark Ottley in Christchurch. If we had organizers like these in every country, secularism would take over the world in a generation!

The Dawkins Foundation YouTube channel will soon post a couple of my speeches in Australia and New Zealand – speeches that lay out specific policy problems in these nations. Secular organizers and activists Down Under are working closely together to DO something about these problems – that is what is important!

Sean Faircloth with Aust.PM ('75-'83) Malcom Fraser

Sean Faircloth with Malcolm Fraser, Australian PM (’75-’83)

When I had the tremendous honor to meet and discuss policy with former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser (organised by Meredith Doig), I really saw the true caliber of this team!

The model established in New Zealand and Australia has international implications. It is time for the freethought movement to go beyond here we are and engage the rest of society in what we do.

My goal with speeches is for them to lead to action. Thanks primarily to the people I collaborated with in Australia and New Zealand, I am honored to think we achieved something together – something meaningful which, as the letter from Jaye Christie below indicates, will have a long-term impact. I am so inspired by what is conveyed in this letter; this concept can, and will, spread around our globe, building a fairer world for all of its inhabitants.

Hi Sean,

I hope this email finds you well! …We are excited to report that since your Tour Down Under, the RSA, HSWA, NZARH and a number of other freethought groups around Australia [...] have committed to forming a secular coalition. Stevie Modern (also of HSWA) and I are in the process of creating our new webpage, which will be up and running any day now.

Your outstanding speeches were instrumental in the formation of the Secular Coalition of Australia… I am confident that posting links to the lectures you gave on your 2013 Australian / NZ Tour on our new website would be most helpful in sparking secular activism here. We want to reach, via video, people who did not make it to your lectures – people who we hope will become inspired by your vision to join our growing activist community.

Thank you for your ongoing support and leadership,

Jaye Christie

(Humanist Society of WA Committee)

Message from the President of the Rationalist Society of Australia

Ian Robinson, President Emeritus, and Dr Meredith Doig, President, of the RSA

Ian Robinson, President Emeritus, and Dr Meredith Doig, President, of the RSA

Dr Meredith Doig, President of the RSA, describes how SECOA was born and the vital importance of freethought groups working together to achieve shared secular aims.

The history within the secular movement includes some degree of infighting and division.  [We must focus… ]  on our collective, shared mission with idealistic and pragmatic passion.  Our focus must be outward not inward, on our collective growth and an appeal to a wider demographic.

Such is Sean Faircloth’s blunt challenge in Attack of the Theocrats and it’s hard to deny this applies just as much in Australia as in the US.  Sean’s tour in March / April 2013 provided an opportunity to show this doesn’t have to be the way forever.  Inspired by his passion and articulate eloquence, a number of groups have collaborated for the greater good.  And it’s worked.  Sean himself said his Australian and New Zealand tour was the best he’d ever experienced.

In preparation for the tour, Sean’s book prompted the development of a “10 Point Plan for a Secular Australia”, an unprecedented collaborative effort between atheists, humanists, rationalists, secularists, skeptics and the odd interfaith religionist.  It goe some way to articulating our common vision; one in which citizens are free to hold and follow a religion but not to impose it on others; one where religion is given no special privileges by the State; one where government policy is explicitly based on evidence, reason and compassion.

The Rationalist Society of Australia enthusiastically supports the SECOA idea and hopes it grows to be an energetic and continuing legacy of Sean’s visit to Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Meredith Doig, President, Rationalist Society of Australia

Sean Faircloth, ‘Atheism and the Joyful Life’

Video

Sean Faircloth, secularist author and Strategy and Policy Director for the Richard Dawkins Foundation on his Australian/New Zealand tour, discusses the meaning and value of free-thinkers and secularists alike in this excerpt from the soon to be released online video of his Perth lecture, ‘Reclaiming a Secular Australia’. (2013, April 2, UWA)

‘Atheism and the Joyful Life’ addresses one of the many common misconceptions of those fighting to preserve a secular public sphere; that it need be empty of spirit.

As Richard Dawkins, in the foreword to Sean Faircloth’s book Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It, says,

Faircloth paints a sobering picture, but fortunately, as anyone who has heard his speeches knows, he also has an inspiring and invigorating vision to offer… he ends his book with a much needed plan for action.

Speaking to a university hall audience, Sean Faircloth argues ‘spiritedly’ for an Australia and a New Zealand open to ‘the questioning minds’ and creative expression of all its citizenry ♦

‘Reclaiming a Secular Australia’ is a joint initiative of SECOA members Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) and Humanists WA (HSWA).

Humanists Join Protests for Equal Rights in WA

Following its decision to join the Secular Coalition of Australia (SECOA) in April this year, Humanists WA (HSWA) has taken immediate steps to promote secularist values in the community.

HSWA members gather at the Equal Love Rally, Perth (May 11)

HSWA members gather at the Equal Love Rally, Perth (May 11)

On May 11, HSWA members marched with groups Equal Love and Amnesty International in a Perth street protest as part of a nationwide campaign for the equal rights of all citizens to marry, regardless of their gender and sexuality.

As part of SECOA’s 10 Point Plan, the Humanists seek reform of the many statutes which continue to discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bissexual and Transgender citizens in family law.

The rally was attended by an estimated 500 protestors in Perth’s CBD, with speakers from the Greens Party and ALP, aswell as union and student groups rallying in support of reforming tradition-based laws preventing Marriage Equality.

HSWA crucially supports freedom of speech and association, and in addition to distributing copies of the 10 Point Plan, also attended in solidarity with students from Notre Dame University of WA.

'Free Speech at Notre Dame University' student leader Chris Jenkins rallies with HSWA, Equal Love Rally, Perth, May 11.

‘Free Speech at Notre Dame University’ student leader Chris Jenkins rallies with HSWA, Equal Love Rally, Perth, May 11

Notre Dame University is a Catholic tertiary institution, which receives public funding and taxpayer-supported students. Various student groups have been banned from meeting at the school’s campus however, for promoting causes outside of the school that the university administration has stated are against its religion-based “Catholic ethos”.

Among the groups refused registration, the UN Women and Medical Students Association Clubs were banned for their positions on abortion and family planning. Refugee support groups, and socialist clubs formed by the students, were also banned, as informed by administration staff after it discovered student clubs’ intent to support equal marriage rights at the Perth rally.

The HSWA believes that freedom of speech is a vital and necessary right in the public sphere, and that institutions receiving public funds should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, political or religious belief. 

The HSWA applauded student speakers for defying the university administrations’ bid to remove their legal protests from public streets outside the campus, and the students’ continuing campaign for free speech on university campuses.

As part of its commitment to support SECOA’s 10 Point Plan for a Secular Australia, the HSWA  also plan to march in attendance at a forthcoming ‘Welcome to Australia’ Rally in support of refugees’ legal rights to seek asylum. A fairer nation is one SECOA believes works to protect the rights of all individuals in a secular, pluralist and inclusive society ♦

Sean Faircloth Tours Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand have long been recognised for upholding the freedom of religion in their constitutions and public life.

In recent years however, we have seen once-settled questions over a woman’s reproductive freedom controlled and determined upon by the professed faiths of representatives in parliament. The Australian federal government recently introduced the funding of chaplains and religious instruction in public schools. The rights of all citizens to marry, or manage their illness in final years, has been challenged by the growing influence of church groups in the public sphere.

Sean Faircloth is the author of 'Attack of the Theocrats!: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It'In March - April this year, Sean Faircloth visited Australia and New Zealand  promoting his work Attack of the Theocrats!: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It.

Sean Faircloth is Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and a former member of the Maine state legislature.

In his book, Faircloth outlines an inspiring 10 point vision of an America returned to its secular roots, and explains that religious interference in government is not limited to the US.

It is, he says, an ‘export business’.

As world-renowned professor and eminent scientist Richard Dawkins argues,

The trend toward theocratic thinking in the United States is a danger not only for America but for the entire world.

Sean Faircloth

The gradual cultural shift in many western democracies from a once clearly defined separation of church and state has created real instances of harm, says Faircloth.

He documents how various church bodies  successfully control the public debate on ‘morality’ while shielding its own business practices through generous tax concessions and avoidance. Many of their instructional and faith healing practices, resulting in the neglect and abuse of children, has been shielded by their status from public scrutiny.

These are instances which must be countered, Faircloth says, by a united and networked secular movement formed to protect the hard-won values of the Enlightenment: equality, reason and compassion.

We want to create a national and international movement for secular values. It starts as it did for the Religious Right in the 1970′s in the US, at the local level, even at the level of the local school board.

At speaking engagements including Sydney, Melbourne, Kyneton, Perth and Auckland, Faircloth discussed how the principles in his 10 point plan are relevant to any modern nation founded on democratic values - Australia and New Zealand included.

His tour was organised by the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA), in conjunction with the Humanist  Society of WA (HSWA) and the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH).

In the lead up to the tour, the RSA worked intensively with other free-thought groups to develop Australia’s own version inspired by Faircloth’s secular vision, a ‘Manifesto for Reclaiming a Secular Australia‘, which highlights the vital importance of safeguarding secularism Down Under.

Faircloth’s speaking engagements attracted large audiences, at universities and The Sydney Opera House, seizing the opportunity to be reminded of secularist principles and current threats to church-state separation within an Australian / New Zealand context.

The Tour also enabled free-thinking people a vital opportunity to meet, share ideas, and build networks for action.

The Secular Coalition of Australia (SECOA) has been formed not only with increased awareness of the present challenges to secular freedom, but a bold future plan for defending it ♦

The RSA’s report on Sean Faircloth’s Eastern States speaking engagements can be read here; the HSWA’s Perth report can be read here