The 2016 Reason Rally: A Festival of Reason, Exuberance and Liberty

I attended the Reason Rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 2016. The day was hot and muggy but shade was plentiful and the program was delightful, educational and encouraging. It was a festival, a secular Woodstock with lots of music, short speeches and sound ideas. The common decencies were celebrated, superstition was denigrated and the Republican Party of Donald Trump was wittily excoriated. My kind of concert.

There were many themes, none emphasized more than the importance of diverse actions that ensure politicians know that secular Americans vote. In lieu of myth, miracle, mystery and metaphysics, Reason Rally celebrants just want to have fun, be kind, treat and be treated fairly and well and not have to endure theocratic rituals, displays, policies and the like.

Besides the music and speakers at the Lincoln Memorial, the four-day event included two days of lobbying at the Capital, VIP events and mini-conferences. Three of the four REAL wellness dimensions, as you know, are related to mental well being – and the three (Reason, Exuberance and Liberty) were explored and extolled as much or more as ever occurred at a National Wellness Conference. As for the other dimension – Athleticism, that was left to the individual attendees.

Reason Rally Purposes

The Reason Rally was created to marshal the secular voting bloc, to put reason, that is, a scientific, evidence-based consciousness, at the forefront of American public and political discourse. This, of course, is a stunningly evident non-existent characteristic of U.S. politics.

Rally speakers urged all in attendance to speak up at every opportunity, to let friends, family, strangers as well as politicians know that freedom from as well as of religion are of equal importance. The Constitutional provision that religion and state be kept separate should be honored, despite a history of being ignored for so long in so many ways. There are more secularists in this country than Catholics – the non-religious comprise 20 to 25 percent of the U.S. population. We are godless and proud of it; its time to commence wielding the untapped political power available, given our numbers.

 

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According to Pew polling, about a quarter of the population are not part of any religion and some 7 percent of the population are atheists and agnostics – more than Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims combined. It’s a small but growing group, which is coalescing into a political bloc. As noted, 300 Rally enthusiasts came early and met at the Capitol with representatives of their senators and congresspersons. I assume some of them mentioned their dismay that Congress annually spends $800,000 to support the clergy who open every session with prayers.

We know too well the validity of what Robert Green Ingersoll observed more than a century ago: There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven. Actually, there could be, but only if politicians and others did their worshiping in churches and other holy houses and otherwise amongst themselves – not in public schools, at government functions or other public – and refrained from passing laws that impose faith-based policies on everyone else. A Reason Rally will no longer be necessary when the god word is gone from the currency, courthouse and Congress, when it’s not in the pledge and when religion is no longer privileged with tax subsidies and other favored treatments. At present, elements of theocracy cost all Americans, including those who find no evidence for gods or attractive in any religions.

The Rally was free and everyone was welcome. It was designed to celebrate the secular, atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinking and other non-religious segments of America. The desired outcome was to create conditions that lend power to separation of church and state at the voting booth, one of the best ways to bring good sense back to government. The Rally was something of a voting bloc party that captured a feeling of community and a shared commitment to grow political influence to reverse the slide toward theocracy.

Rally Highlights

In addition to slowing and eventually reversing the incursions of religion on the liberties of those of us who want freedom from it, many other causes were promoted at the Rally, among them the following:

* LGBT Equality – Religion should never be an excuse to deny public accommodation nor should it be a justification for non-performance of duty by a government employee. Remember when a Kentucky county clerk refused to issue marriage certificates to LGBT couples – even after being ordered to do so by the courts, because, she insisted, doing so would violate her religious principles. A more consequential example is the Supreme Court case, brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, joined by priests, a Catholic Archdiocese and several universities, claiming the government is compelling a violation of their beliefs. How? Because the birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act places a burden on their religious exercise, despite an accommodation from the government that allows a simple sign-off that excuses them from offering contraception.

* Climate Change – An overwhelming number of scientists have raised the alarm about the disastrous impact climate change is having and will continue to have. Yet, climate change deniers continue to protect the fossil-fuel industry and refuse to implement policies to mitigate the effects of climate change. In 2015, the U.S. Senate voted 50-49 to deny that people cause climate change! This kind of grotesque religiosity over democracy and the Constitution was another poster case of unreasonable horror for Rally participants.

* Women’s Reproductive Rights – The beliefs of a minority of Americans have limited a woman’s right to choose and access to birth control – and, in the process, also have drastically cut the health care available to women. If a woman believes that birth control is a sin, she doesn’t have to use birth control-but she surely does not have the right to bar another woman from doing so. Those same politicians who vote against Planned Parenthood or insurance coverage for birth control or the morning-after pill would be appalled by a law that prohibited men from getting Viagra.

In the days immediately after the Rally, three curious news stories were noted that gave further reason to appreciate the need for more Reason Rallies, not just in Washington but in every state, city and neighborhood, for that matter.

The first was about Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa, who issued an official decree urging citizens of the state to participate in a bible reading marathon event in all 99 Iowa courthouses and to do so on a daily basis until the Lord comes. This is not a joke. The governor’s decree is loaded with theological declarations, such as that the bible is recognized as the one true revelation from God, showing the way to salvation, truth and life and that it is God’s revealed will for mankind. An FFRF attorney pointed out that such statements violate the government’s obligation to let citizens worship, or not and is an egregious abuse of the governor’s office and power. In a letter to the governor, Andrew Seidel wrote:

That by issuing this intensely religious proclamation and encouraging bible-reading, you send a message that Iowa prefers religion over non-religion, and the Christian religion over any other religion and that the separation between state and church is among the most fundamental principles of our system of government. Our founders valued this principle, and your proclamation betrays their sacrifice.

Meanwhile, my hometown newspaper highlighted a story, just as the first tropical storm of the year inundated parts of Florida, that former governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist had not yet had placed a prayer note in a crevice of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This is a ritual the former state government official has conducted annually since 2007. This is the message stuck in the wall:

Dear God: Please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.

One more example – did you know that NASA awarded $1.108 million in taxpayer funds to a Christian religious institute, the Center for Theological Inquiry? Are we a theocracy yet? To do what? To foster theology’s dialogue with astrobiology on the societal implications of future discoveries of extraterrestrial life, and how this might impact Christian theology and religious beliefs! FFRF and other secular organizations have protested that this is patently unconstitutional. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits any ‘sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity, wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. The government may not fund religious projects, as various courts have ruled over the years. Nevertheless, NASA did it.

Let’s have a Reason Rally at the Kennedy Space Center.

One has to wonder: Would Governor Branstad, Senate candidate Charlie Crist and NASA administrators conduct themselves as noted if they knew a quarter of their constituents cherished reason and did not want public officials to merge religious beliefs with public duties?

Personal Highlights

In any event, the Rally enthusiasts, perhaps 10 to 15,000 in all, showed their support for science and the common good as best guides for shaping democratic, liberty-enabling policies. Such guides won’t be followed so long as religious interests wield powers to which they are constitutional not entitled. As the Rally leaders noted, in the heat of the divisive rhetoric of an election year, reasonable people can nonetheless unite around issues that concern us all. And freethinkers, nones, atheists and secular humanists, by whatever name, can and should become a force for Republicans and others to reckon with.

Among the stage acts at the Rally that I heard and enjoyed between breaks for meals, visiting the expo tents and naps who made the above and other cases for reason were David Silverman, Penn Jillette with singer Carolina Pena, Lawrence Krauss, Bill Nye, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins (both by video), Julia Sweeney, Lizz Winstead, John de Lancie, the Amazing Randi, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eddie Tabash, Todd Stiefel, Maryam Namazie, Paul Provenza, Anthony Pinn, Dave Rubin, Robyn Blumner and The Fab Four.

Hopefully, videos of all the presenters will be available soon.

Summary

It’s time for people who believe in data-driven, reason-based public policy to make their voices heard on issues that affect us all, no matter our faith or lack of faith, political affiliation or other distinctions.

As part of the festive weekend, I and several others led tours over three days of sites in D.C. where Robert Green Ingersoll, the best-known orator and politi­cal speechmaker of 19th-century America, had homes, offices, gave lectures and tried legal cases. Ingersoll was famous as a champion of freethought, women’s rights and liberal causes. He made Washington his home for seven years. During the walk through the oldest parts of Washington, DC, I and other guides highlighted Ingersoll’s life and work on a stroll of 12 blocks that took 1 1/2 hours to complete. In addition to summarized Ingersoll facts related to each stop, the good folks on my tour were treated to Ingersoll speeches – at no extra charge! The official Ingersoll in D.C. Walking Tour, under the skillful direction of Steve Lowe and the Washington Area Secular Humanist (WASH) organization, is available year-round.

The first Reason Rally was staged in 2012. In many ways, except for the weather, this second edition captured much of the good vibes, sights and sounds of the original event.

Be well, look on the bright side and rely on reason as you pursue ever-new forms of exuberant possibilities with a REAL wellness lifestyle.