The speech of Harry Greenberger: president, New Orleans secular Humanist Assn

The speech of Harry Greenberger: president, New Orleans secular Humanist Assn

One successful outcome of this event will come when you leave and enthusiastically begin or expand a viable and visible secular movement where you live, no matter how infertile you think that field to be.

I think some of our small group’s successes, which I will outline, may be helpful and encouraging to some of you. The recent CUNY survey showed Louisiana in the groups with the highest number of Catholics and Baptists and the lowest number of “no religion” responses.

You know about our Catholic religious bacchanalia — Mardi Gras –followed by the forty days of Lent, when you give up something you enjoy to convince God that you are really sorry for the bad things you did during Mardi Gras.

In our religious environment, three years ago, the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association was organized by a few like-minded people, with hopes of gaining recognition in the community and attracting other freethinkers to meetings for education and friendships. We had determination, but no blueprint to follow. The news release covering our formation, sent to the Times Picayune, New Orleans’ only daily paper, surprisingly garnered a supportive half page coverage in the religion section.

Our semimonthly meetings, with invited speakers, attracted members from around the area.

Those early participants included University professors, other teachers, a newspaper editor, and an ex-priest.

One of our priorities was to get our name and our mission known to the public. We encouraged our members to write secularly oriented letters to editors of newspapers, which now total about twenty-five actually published. We volunteered a telephone bank for the public TV station’s membership drive and art auction, displaying our banner in front of our table and receiving on air recognition.

We made ourselves known to the Louisiana ACLU, which invited me to talk at one of their meetings; referred church/state media inquiries to us; and allowed one of their staff to serve on our Board of Directors. After having Louisiana Planned Parenthood President as one of our speakers, we were invited to present the secular humanist perspective on women’s right to choose at their Roe v. Wade 29th Anniversary “Interfaith” rally.

We have found support in the New Orleans Unitarian churches — each of them having invited me to deliver a Sunday morning talk.

A feature on the Times Picayune “Books” page, is a group of organizations’ members, with their photos and short book reviews. Our published submission reviewed these books: Telling Lies for God; Why God Won’t Go Away; Godless Morality; and Dumbth.

We have appeared on radio and TV discussing evolution versus ‘creation science.’ In our first year we sponsored New Orleans’ first ‘Darwin Day’ at Tulane University, with the co-sponsorship of two of their departments. In 2001, our second Darwin Day commemoration grew to morning and afternoon sessions of invited speakers, which the University of New Orleans, along with others, co-sponsored. To help cover the honorarium and travel expenses of our featured speaker, and other expenses, we obtained a grant from the Institute for Humanist Studies.

That Darwin Day received a half page of reasonable coverage in the Times Picayune, albeit again on the Religion page. UNO assumed sponsorship for Darwin Day this year and plans to carry this program forward into future years.

We achieved what we have been told no other secular organization has done: we requested and received the FFRF Mayoral Proclamation for the month of January, 2002, as “Celebrate Church/State Separation month.”

At a recent seminar on dealing with the media, I had the opportunity to meet, in person, the City Editor of our newspaper, which you should all try to do. Soon thereafter he assigned a reporter to talk to me. That seminar had advised that reporters were more interested in stories about people than events and ideas — so my inclusion of personal information, along with the secular humanism message, resulted in a very favorable lengthy article, this time in the Metro section of the Times Picayune.

Be aggressive! Borrow ideas! Let them know back home that you’ve been here today!

Mr. Greenberger can be reached at:

COPYRIGHT 2002 American Atheists Inc.

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