When I’m not stumbling through writing these posts or at my day job or chilling with the hubs and my kick ass dogs, I spend quite a bit of my time organizing a freethought group based in Sioux Falls, SD.
That group is Siouxland Freethinkers, a group of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and skeptics. The organization is just about four years old, and has really turned into something pretty great in that short amount of time.
It started with eleven people in the back room of a coffee shop, each thinking that they were the only atheist in the state. Fast forward four years and we have grown into a 501(c)3 organization, a Volunteers Beyond Belief team, and an affiliate of American Atheists. We also helped form the South Dakota Coalition of Reason, and as such did a state-wide billboard campaign. We’ve tabled at events, walked in parades, adopted a highway, and collected school supplies for underprivileged youth, toys for the Children’s Home Society, canned goods for Feeding South Dakota, and feminine hygiene products for local homeless women. We’ve raised around $19,000 for Autism Speaks, tabled in the state Capitol building and talked to legislators about why the proposed intelligent design bill wasn’t right for South Dakota’s students, protested John Edward when he came to town, and hosted lecturers. We have volunteered numerous hours at science themed kids events, written letters to the editor, advocated for the separation of church and state, and opened a city council meeting with a secular invocation.
More than those things though, we’ve created a community; a place for like-minded people to go and feel comfortable being who they are. A place where people can share their experiences, stories, and a cup of coffee. A place for people to connect; a place for friendships to grow. Siouxland Freethinkers is activism, advocacy, support, humanism, and so much more.
Along the way, while doing all these things, a few people have heard of us. Some people decide to reach out and send us an email or a message. At our March Members Meeting, we read some of our “fan mail” out loud. The hubs put it together into a video, which was shared on JT Eberhard’s blog earlier today. Here it is, for your viewing enjoyment:
To find out more about Siouxland Freethinkers, find us on Facebook or go to http://www.siouxlandfreethinkers.org/
The Central Florida Freethought Community put together this awesome video highlighting several of the secular invocations given across the United States since the Greece v. Galloway ruling. Enjoy!
Harry Potter Prayer Before Sioux Falls City Council Meeting Wins National Award
By Dan Peters
The night was August 5, 2014. With knees knocking Amanda Novotony stepped to the microphone to deliver “words of inspiration” to the Sioux Falls City Council.
It was the first time ever that a non-religious invocation was given prior to a Council meeting at Carnegie Town Hall. As President of the Siouxland Free Thinkers group she was compelled to use the opportunity to give a humanistic beginning to official city business.
Her invocation was eventually submitted to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and was chosen as a finalist among 14 other such examples from across the country. Novotny who currently resides in Brookings captured one of three awards for Best Secular Invocation although she would technically call it an opening. “A lot of people have called it the ‘Harry Potter Prayer,’ but it was not a prayer in any way.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the town of Greece, NY did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by opening its meetings with sectarian prayer. As a result, more people such as Novotny stepped forward to pursue this opportunity with their local entities.
For her efforts, Novotny will be asked to speak before the FFRF’s national convention in Los Angeles this coming October. “This will be a little bit bigger. I need to work on my message over the next month.” Being a graduate of South Dakota State University, Novotny does regret that the conference runs at the same time as Hobo Day.
She does have plans on attempting a similar message during a future South Dakota Legislative session in 2015.
If you would like to see the award winning “Harry Potter Prayer,” you can watch the clip below.
Freethinkers join together exchange ideas
By Scott Feldman
In South Dakota, where about 70 percent of residents identify as Christians and many lawmakers openly espouse strong Christian beliefs, it can be hard for people with nontraditional beliefs to get their voices heard and their ideas understood.
That sentiment was shared by members of the South Dakota Coalition of Reason, a group made up of Freethinker organizations throughout the state, that held a conference in Rapid City on Saturday.
Some freethinkers feel they must take overt steps to make their points, among them that religion is fine for some, but not necessarily for all.
When Eric Novotny, of Brookings, a founding member of the Siouxland Freethinkers, learned that fundamentalist Christians were protesting for religious freedom every Friday night outside the Federal Building in Rapid City, he said he decided to test them.
So he drew up a sign that read “Never trust anyone who only read one book,” and picketed nearby. The first thing someone did, Novotny said, was call him Satan. But he said what shocked them even more than his sign was the fact that Novotny, an atheist, told them he also doesn’t believe in Satan.
“They were just completely taken aback and saying to each other ‘this guy doesn’t believe in Satan,'” he said.
About 30 minutes later, Novotny was in the middle of a discussion with some people about his beliefs when the people who confronted him earlier threw “Holy Water” on him. Twice. He said their actions showed their hypocrisy.
“They were not marching for religious freedom,” he said. “They were marching for their own religious freedom.”
Novotny told his story to about 40 people who came to the meeting of the South Dakota Coalition of Reason held at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel on Saturday. The group is made up Siouxland Freethinkers, Brookings Freethinkers, Black Hills Freethinkers and Secular Student Alliance campus groups from the state universities.
Novotny said he has nothing against people who believe in religion. His argument is with those, especially public officials, who attempt to force their viewpoint onto others, such as by passing legislation limiting the rights of gay people and those with nontraditional lifestyles or pushing creationism teachings in public schools.
“If someone is off on the sidelines and they say ‘religion makes me happy,’ and they aren’t bothering or hurting anyone else, I think that’s great,” he said.
One of the other panelists, Katrina Wilke, said she has been an atheist since 2005. But she said she is married to a Christian man, and even though their belief on the existence of God differs, all of their other core principles as human beings line up. That makes their marriage work, she said.
“Some Christians and atheists can get along just fine,” Wilke said. “As long as each side is willing to accept the other person’s beliefs.”
The general consensus among the panelists, and the audience at the Coalition of Reason meeting, is that they are not opposed to Christianity or any other religion. Most felt that the core tenets expressed in the Bible, such as not killing others, respecting neighbors and helping those less fortunate, are excellent ideals to live by.
In fact, being a Freethinker doesn’t even require atheist beliefs. In contrast, what the group stresses almost above everything else is a desire to educate people and allow them to make their own choices, as long as they don’t harm other people.
“Basically, it doesn’t matter what you believe,” said Derrick Pates, 36, of Rapid City. “Just understand what you believe and why you believe it.”
Interview on September 9th, 2013 with Amanda Novotny about the CoR Billboards in and around Sioux Falls.
Invocation begins @ 17 minutes in.
Ask An Atheist – Podcast
Interview with Amanda Novotny
South Dakota City Council Meeting to Open With Atheist Invocation for the First Time
Atheist treats Sioux Falls City Council to Dumbledore’s wisdom during opening prayer
Center for Inquiry
Harry Potter and the Atheist of Sioux Falls
Friendly Atheist Blog
Secular Invocation Referencing Harry Potter Delivered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Atheist takes turn giving council blessing
Atheist Blesses SF City Council Meeting
Sioux Falls City Council Meeting Begins With Unique Invocation
Let Us Pray Dumbledore Style
Secular Talk – Video
Atheist Reads Harry Potter To Open Govt. Meeting
Atheist chooses Harry Potter over Bible quotes for council’s invocation
Americans Against the Tea Party
Instead of Offering an Opening Prayer, This Atheist Quoted Dumbledore
Atheism Analyzed – Op-Ed Blog
Atheist Invocation At Public Meeting Refers to Harry Potter For Moral Principles
Central Florida Freethought Community
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided it’s constitutional to read a prayer before City Council, but they say it has to be open to everyone.
Tomorrow, Sioux Falls City Council will open it’s meeting by having an atheist read the invocation.
“I think it’s really important for all citizens to be heard in government, so I’m excited on that front,” said President of the Sioux Land Free Thinkers Amanda Novotny.
For the first time a member of the organization will be reading the invocation at the Sioux Falls City Council meeting.
“It’s going to be really positive, it’s going to be really inclusive. I don’t want anyone to feel left out because everyone is there and everyone is a part of their city and their government,” Novotny added.
She decided to do the reading after a Supreme Court decision saying you can have a prayer before a meeting, but it has to be open to everyone.
“Based on that ruling then a Secular, Humanist invocation would be totally acceptable and since that’s what we’re working with I called and got on the schedule,” she explained.
Reading the invocation is open to anyone who wants it.
“It was a really easy process. I just called them, I asked how one does it, she said everyone who does it is a volunteer and it was just a matter of scheduling,” she said.
“We do represent everybody in the city of Sioux Falls. Individuals come from varying backgrounds with varying beliefs,” said Sioux
Falls City Council Member Rick Kiley.
Which is why he believes it’s important for everyone in the community to feel heard.
“We would like everyone to feel that they are a part of city government and this is one way of doing that,” said Kiley.
Novotny knows there have been plenty of invocations that have not been religious, but thinks this is a bigger deal because she is an atheist.
The list of people reading the opening invocation is full for this year.
But to get on the list next year, all you need to do is call the city council and sign up.
And like Novotny said, it’s mainly based on scheduling.
Amanda Novotny Gives Secular City Council Invocation