May 12, 2013

A Humanist Couple in Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you know nothing else about Colorado Springs, you probably know that it is the home of the Air Force Academy and Focus on the Family (the Christian extremist organization). I have visited Colorado Springs a few times and known a few people who have lived there. Rumors of its conservative Christian influence seem to be well placed.

Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) shared a great article from The Colorado Springs Gazette about Becky Hale and Gary Betchan. They founded the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs and run EvolveFISH together. Hale is also the President of the American Humanist Association. The article, written by Steve Rabey, does an excellent job of describing what Hale and Betchan have had to endure in the evangelical Christian epicenter that is Colorado Springs.
As Betchan and Hale sit in their comfortable, north-side home talking about the past quarter century, a picture emerges of two reluctant radicals who only enlisted in their hometown culture wars after being forced to defend their deeply held values.
"Reluctant radicals" does seem to be an apt description. The couple describes how their humanist values have repeatedly come under assault from the evangelical fundamentalist Christians who are so prevalent in Colorado Springs.
Hale said she was fired without cause after being 'outed ' as an atheist at a mandatory employee sensitivity training session. Betchan said that employees who attended one manager's 'voluntary ' Bible study meetings at his former job got the best assignments.
Employment discrimination like this is not terribly uncommon in places where evangelical fundamentalist Christians form an overwhelming majority. I hear about similar things happening here in Mississippi fairly often. That it would happen in Colorado Springs where Focus on the Family is based is not surprising.

Hale and Betchan noted that they have also faced blatant bigotry right in their neighborhood.
One day, they say, a neighbor knocked and asked to meet the couple after other neighbors had showed her a petition seeking to oust 'freethinkers ' and 'blacks ' from the neighborhood.
Wow! It really is amazing to think about atheists having to contend with the possibility of being run out of a neighborhood in 2013.

What is really neat about Hale and Betchan is that they refused to cave in to all of this pressure and instead became activists. And yet, it certainly does not sound like they are out to change the world. In fact, here's how Hale expressed what they would like:
We would like to live in a place where my daughter is not afraid to have people find out she does not believe in God. We would like to work in workplaces where promotions are based on performance, not attending the right church. We would like atheists to be able to run for political office without persecution or being treated like second-class citizens.
That certainly does not seem like too much to ask, does it?

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