Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Brings the Essence of ‘Aloha’

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has been a refreshingly strong voice for secularism and free expression in the House of Representatives, having introduced the congressional resolution calling upon Bangladesh to confront the murder and persecution of religious minorities and the nonreligious running rampant in that country. We at the Center for Inquiry enthusiastically backed this resolution.

Rep. Gabbard is the only Hindu in Congress, and her concerns extend to all believers and nonbelievers alike. She was serious and grounded in her address to the Reason Rally, showing a firm resolve to resist the forces of sectarian division that plague so many parts of the world. I hope everyone appreciates fully what a good sign it is that the atheist community has this ally.

In her address, she highlighted the Bangladesh emergency, of murderous machete attacks ending the lives of secularists and religious minorities, those who follow the “wrong religion” or no religion at all.

She made the case that secularism and pluralism are the only means to protecting our rights to follow our own spiritual or non-spiritual paths. This embrace of those who are different, she called “the essence of aloha.”

Anthony Pinn Urges Us to Be Our Best Selves

Anthony Pinn is one of our movement’s most compelling and thought provoking scholars and speakers. He was just jovial and hopeful in his Reason Rally address earlier today, highlighting the hopefulness of humanism as a way of life. Indeed, he even boasted of “wearing his celebration pants.”

Pinn declared Reason Rally day to be “a special day…a day when clear thinking is celebrated, and notice is served on the superstition and nonsense that keeps our nation from being our best selves.”

Recalling the wisdom of his grandmother, Pinn advised that we should “move through the world as though our footsteps matter.” That truly is what so many of us in this movement are trying to do.

Pinn lauded the humanist philosophy as one that embraces difference, and grounded in reason. He said we must devote all of our best efforts to advance humanism’s reach and impact. “Could we really do anything less?”

Human Rights Defender Maryam Namazie Fights on Several Fronts

Maryam Namazie is among the most eloquent and passionate advocates for human rights now working, someone who boldly and unapologetically takes on the brutalism of fundamentalist Islam, as well as fundamentalism in other faiths.

At the Reason Rally, she declared her solidarity with those persecuted for exercising their fundamental rights, such as Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu Al-khair in Saudi Arabia, and the murders of secularists in Bangladesh such as Avijit Roy.

She was particularly vehement in her refutation of some on the political left who she says are apologists for extremist religions and the abuse of Islamist regimes, citing the confusions of “respect for culture” and identity politics. “Thanks but no thanks” she said to them, calling Islamism “the culture of our fascists.”

“If everyone agreed with them,” she said of the oppressive Islamist regimes, “they would not need to terrorize people with violence.”

She dismissed the common criticism of secularists as comparable to religious extremists, saying, “In the world they want, everybody dies. In the world we want, everybody gets to live.”

Cartoons and blasphemy can never be more offensive than murder, she told us. That is exactly the ideal that CFI believes and fights for every day.

State Senator Raskin: We Must Confront “Civilizational Emergency” of Climate Change

Earlier in the Rally, we got to hear from Maryland State Senator, and candidate for the U.S. House, Jamie Raskin. It was quite a thing to see a politician running for major political office — and not even an avowed atheist — speaking so strongly and passionately for secularism and science.

He warned us that Enlightenment values have never been under such threat as they are now, as lawmakers and “industries committed to denial” thwart efforts to address the “civilizational emergency” of climate change.

There’s been some back and forth about how Raskin identifies, whether he’s an atheist, a humanist, a secular Jew, or all of the above or somewhere in between. But the important thing, really, is that we are seeing candidates and officeholders who want to bring the concerns and values of science and reason to the halls of power. We’ll see more of that very dynamic with upcoming speakers, two sitting Members of Congress.

Lizz Winstead Meets the Creationists

Lizz Winstead is a co-creator of the Daily Show and is a seasoned instigator of Twitter tussles with religious conservatives. On stage at the Reason Rally, she recounted some of her recent battles with the ideologically opposed, and mused that perhaps they don’t believe in evolution because it had yet to have any effect on them. Interesting, if true.

She also told the tale of her visit to the Creation Museum, and was particularly incensed that creationists believed that before Eve ate the infamous apple, childbirth was allegedly painless. I think if that gets out, the apple agricultural industry will collapse.

She was just delightful, frankly. She had a way of delivering some very heated points in a lighthearted way. I mean, how else are you going to break the news to creationists that some funny business would have had to have taken place with the earliest biblical matings.

I Believe That Keith Lowell Jensen Exists

Keith Lowell Jensen, a great comedian who performed at the last CFI Leadership Conference in 2015, is a big hit at the Reason Rally. He’s reminded us that instead of thanking God for Friday, we ought to thank a union member (which makes sense, since there many more of those to choose from, and they exist).

He also had some particular insights into the mechanics of aspirin as contraception, which, I’ll just say, doesn’t quite hold together logically. It’s funnier when he explains it.

On a personal note, Jensen is also known for his hilarious routines about being a dad, which resonates with me in particular, and he got me to begin reading the How to Train Your Dragon books to my kids. It was a very good call.

Planetary Scientist Caroline Porco: Religion Hurts Women Most

Caroline Porco, responsible for the amazing and inspiring images of Saturn from the Cassini mission, made a powerful statement about religion’s destructive and marginalizing impact on women. She wondered aloud as to why women worldwide haven’t yet risen up against the oppressive force that religion has been in their lives, noting that the more religious a society is, the worse it treats women.

“When women are given the power over their own lives, good things happen,” she declared, adding that “women are the key” to achieving a world of “sensible, secular thinking.” It was a moving moment of defiance and determination from someone who has already done so much to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe.

Robyn Blumner (Our Boss) Tells Nonbelievers to Claim Their Place at the Political Table

Our boss was just one of the first speakers for the Reason Rally! Robyn Blumner just came on the job as CFI’s CEO in January, when we merged up with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. She’s here mainly to talk about her own story, and about the Dawkins Foundation, leaving it to our excellent board chair Eddie Tabash to talk up the Center for Inquiry later.

“There are millions and millions and millions of atheists in America,” said Robyn. “But we are invisible. We have no political power. We can be dismissed by politicians with utter impunity. We can be insulted and we can be ignored and there is no political cost for it.

“And why is that? Because we are too quiet.”

Robyn asked us all to make some noise. I think after today, we’ll have no trouble with that.

Come Visit the Fortress of Secular-tude

Seriously, if you’re at the Rally, you need to get yourself to the exhibitors’ tent and see the huge CFI/RDF/Openly Secular setup. It’s a huge hit. People are lined up to spin our prize wheel and get their photo taken to declare themselves Openly Secular. Our signs, I don’t mind telling you, are quite popular. We’ve got the handsome mugs of Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, and Julia Sweeney smiling down on us.

Meanwhile, we’ve got camera crews interviewing people for the Openly Secular campaign, and people are telling their own stories about being nonreligious in America.

Make the trek on down here. We have so much going on.

The Reason Rally is Here, Right On Time

We made it. It’s a hazy, humid day in Washington, DC, and there’s a stately gray hue over the Reflecting Pool, as thousands of staff, volunteers, and technicians put the final touches on setup for the 2016 Reason Rally. Months of planning, outreach, negotiations, promotion, meetings, and fundraising, capped off with a few crazy days of packing, coordinating, traveling, and other last minute scrambles have led to this moment.

Whether you’re checking in from afar, or your here at the Lincoln Memorial, this is where you can keep yourself up to date on all the goings-on: highlights from speeches, on-the-ground interviews and images, interactions with enthusiastic attendees, and hopefully-witty and insightful commentary from the CFI team. That team, by the way is comprised of the impossibly charming Nora Hurley, CFI web guru Matt Licata, and me, communications director Paul Fidalgo.

I was here four years ago for the first Reason Rally. I was brand new on the job, and I was overwhelmed by the excitement, passion, and sheer numbers of that event. That Rally sought out to show the country that the American nonreligious population was not going to be ignored, and would not be relegated to the sidelines. It worked. The country took notice, and it’s been talked about ever since.

This time around, we need a Reason Rally more than ever. Irrationality, science-denial, and dogma-driven policies are clogging up our politics, crackpot conspiracy theories are threatening to go mainstream, and around the world, secularists are under mortal threat.

I think this Rally will be bigger than the last. I think the impact will be deeper. We’re going to bring it to you from as many angles as we can. Anything could happen! (For example, we still don’t have power in the press tent. That could be a problem.) Check in often today, and whether you’re at home or out on the Mall, we hope you have a great Rally.