Northern Indiana Atheists Come Out to Support Equality
Northern Indiana Atheists (NIA) proudly participated in the South Bend Pride Block Party on Saturday, June 16, to show our support for the LGBTQ community. This was the first public appearance for NIA, which was established to fight state/church violations on a local level and defend the rights of atheists across Northern Indiana. We are a grassroots organization consisting of atheists and our allies who share our vision for a government that represents all citizens equally, our passion for serving our community, and our enjoyment in educating people on what it means to be an atheist in Northern Indiana.
Several of our board members are part of the LGBTQ community and understand keenly the intersection between sexuality, gender identity, and belief systems. Thus, participating in the South Bend Pride Block Party was a perfect fit for NIA because atheists can relate to the struggles that LGBTQ persons face in coming out about their sexuality or gender identity. Atheists often struggle to tell religious family, friends, and coworkers that they don’t believe in God or an afterlife because they are frequently met with scorn, ridicule, and condemnation. As a result, many atheists stay quiet and keep their beliefs private. NIA hopes to give a voice to atheists who are afraid to come out.
We want to let members of the LGBTQ community know that we will always be allies. One of our signs at Pride read, “When equality is under attack, atheists show up.” Almost all of the egregious actions taken against LGBTQ persons have been done in the name of religion, and we want to let people know that we represent an open, accepting alternative to religion.
At the Pride Block Party we passed out hundreds of stickers, pamphlets, signs, and buttons. The materials were given away free of charge, thanks to the generosity and support of American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, two organizations working to protect the separation of church and state on the national level. We gave out more than 500 cards describing our mission along with the free goodies, and several people signed up to become supporting members of NIA. Individual membership starts at $25, and family membership is available for $40. Many people gave donations to support the mission and wished us the best of luck as we grow.
Our encounters with the people at Pride were all positive. Many people thanked us for being there to support Pride, and we met so many who support us. A younger person picked up an “Atheist for Equality” rainbow sticker and said to their friend, “I don’t care what my parents think, I like rainbows.” One religious woman who said she was in a mixed marriage was excited to get information and buttons to take home for her atheist husband, who moved here from another state and has felt like he is alone. And one lady, after stopping to read some of our handouts, commented that she agreed that state and church should be kept separate. Wondering who she was talking to, she stepped back and looked at our banner, and with a big smile said our favorite quote of the day: “Atheists! I should have known!”
Many of our friends and allies were also at the Pride Block Party, including the Humanist Forum, ACLU of Indiana, TREES (Transgender Resource Education and Enrichment Services), MAAF (Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers), and Pro-Choice South Bend. We placed our booth right next to the Humanist Forum because our ideas and goals align closely. The Humanist Forum is a local group that promotes humanist ideas, including the idea that one can be moral and good without God or religion.
Despite the scorching 90 degree temperatures, the reception we received from the public was wonderful, and many people told us they were glad to see an atheist group in the community. Several said they’ve always wished there was a group like ours, and some shared problems they’ve faced in the community. Even many of the religious groups that were in attendance were proud to stand with us as allies and agreed that the separation of church and state is an important cornerstone of our nation. This need for the separation of church and state could not have been made more clear this past week when our nation’s leaders tried to use the Bible to justify some of the nation’s most egregious immigration policies, including separating children from their parents who entered the country seeking asylum.
A wonderful example of the benefits of keeping church and state separate came at the end of the Pride Block Party, when the mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, dropped by to make his first public appearance as a married man alongside his husband, Chasten Glezman. Mayor Pete and Chasten had been married just minutes earlier at the Episcopal Church of St. James. Just three years ago, gay marriage was still illegal in Indiana because of antiquated laws based entirely on religious teachings. When the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment protected the rights of all adult couples to get married regardless of their sexual orientation, the door was open for Mayor Pete and thousands of others to marry the partners of their dreams.
Defending the separation of church and state is a beautiful thing, and Northern Indiana Atheists will be here to make sure it continues to stay separate throughout our region.
More information about NIA and how you can support us by becoming a member can be found on our website at NorthernIndianaAtheists.com.