By Fred Edwords
Twenty humanists and other freethought activists, uniting behind the banner of a new Coalition of Reason, marched in Fredericksburg, Virginia, this past Sunday, January 8. The occasion was the annual Religious Freedom Day Parade, celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” drafted after a committee met in Fredericksburg in January 1777 to revise Virginia’s laws. The bill would later become the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
The Fredericksburg Coalition of Reason had first announced itself a few days earlier, on Wednesday, January 4, with news about its billboard on Interstate 95 bearing the words: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” Newspaper publicity followed, along with radio interviews and Internet buzz. More publicity followed after the parade.
The groups making up Fredericksburg CoR are the Fredericksburg Secular Humanists (an AHA chapter), Conservative Skeptics of Virginia, Drinking Skeptically, Fredericksburg Parenting Beyond Belief, and Reading Skeptically. This combining of forces made it possible for local nontheists to present as strong a showing in the parade as any of the other groups. And it revealed to the community that nontheistic people are strongly represented in Fredericksburg.
The annual parade was first established during the 1976 U.S. bicentennial. In later years its continued organizing fell to the local Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic group that still manages the activity today. They thus led the parade and arranged the public speeches given in front of the Thomas Jefferson Religious Freedom Monument at the end. It is hoped, however, after so positive a humanist showing in the parade, that a humanist can be included among the speakers next year.
Longtime AHA leader Fred Edwords is national director of the United Coalition of Reason.