Congratulations on the formation of the Secular Coalition of Australia!
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.
So, 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:
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!
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.
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,
(Humanist Society of WA Committee)