Deny Your Atheism or Cancel Your Charity Event?

When Typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines, humanists responded quickly and generously. Members of the American Humanist Association (AHA) donated over $30,000 to Humanist Charities, the charitable arm of the AHA that has now merged with the Foundation Beyond Belief to create Humanist Crisis Response. The mission remains the same—to mobilize humanists and others who are “good without a god” to support relief efforts after major natural disasters around the world.

Thanks to the generosity of our members, donations continue to support Filipinos affected by Typhoon Yolanda a year later. This support has been facilitated by the Humanist Alliance Philippines International, also known as HAPI. Directed by AHA member Marissa Langseth, the organization aims to promote secular humanism in the Philippines, a largely Catholic country.

You’d think that local communities would be grateful to hear that an organization—any organization—wanted to support children affected by the typhoon, which is exactly what HAPI aimed to do. Leaders from the HAPI local chapter in Cebu began planning a day-long children’s event, providing food, entertainment, and educational supplies to benefit families affected by Typhoon Yolanda. But HAPI—because of its nontheistic nature—was met with resistance even before the event began.

HAPI-Cebu organizers first approached officials from the barangay, or neighborhood, of Ipil in Ormoc City—where many families were displaced by the typhoon—to organize the event in their area, but were immediately refused. Fortunately, the neighborhood of Linao agreed to hold the event and HAPI-Cebu was able to partner with the United Women of Looc Linao Association, which provided the space , and recruited local volunteer police officers who were assigned to ensure things went smoothly in case of large crowds.

In the days leading up to the event, ten volunteers from HAPI-Cebu organized boxes of food and decorated the event hall—which included hanging the HAPI and AHA banners as sponsors of the event. But when a local barangay official saw the AHA’s sign, which includes the organization’s official slogan, “GOOD WITHOUT A GOD,” he questioned why the sign was there. Several parents who saw the banner asked, in an obviously negative tone, “You are atheists? What kind of people are you?” A police officer was brought in and requested to have the sign taken down completely. When HAPI-Cebu volunteers initially refused, the police officer threatened to cancel the entire charity event.

The volunteers were obviously put in a very difficult situation. A cancelled charity event would affect a number of families who would significantly benefit from the food and supplies. So, as a compromise, the police allowed the event to proceed and the sign to remain, so long as it was rolled up so that slogan wasn’t visible.

Despite this unfortunate incident, the event was a success—over100 children accompanied by their parents enjoyed food and entertainment provided by the volunteers from HAPI-Cebu, and the children also took home a box of educational supplies.

Aljohn de Leon, secretary general for HAPI, supported HAPI-Cebu’s decision to continue to hold the event despite the police officer’s request. However, he had this to say about the locals who opposed it:

Personally, I was appalled to learn that there are still people who decline assistance just because of their religious beliefs. This is the kind of toxic behaviors institutionalized by the unhelpful Catholic Church—which these indigent people seek help from. The sad thing is, the Catholic Church is deaf and probably won’t take a turn to give them any help.

These Typhoon victims—most of them parents—only breed more and more people who will act only on cultural inertia and believe what they’re told to believe, regardless of the amount of evidence presented. This is sad. They miss a lot of opportunities. And this is why HAPI exists, this is why AHA exists. We have a lot of work to do.

One can only hope that HAPI will continue their excellent and important charitable work, and that the Filipino people who oppose humanism will see that all we are trying to do is simply be good without a god.

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