|THE DIRECTORS - Beyond Belief -|
Founder of Utah
chapter of American
Atheists in 1979,
and Director until
Director of the
1982 to 1993;
2004 to Aug 2008
one of our
|U T A H||NATIONAL|
The Utah Chapter was founded in Salt Lake City by Richard Andrews, a former Mormon on March 26, 1979. Over 100 people attended the organizational meeting. When organization of the chapter was announced, the Mormon Church immediately released 4 statement condemning Atheism which was read into the Congressional Record by 'Senator Jake Garn. The "'Utah Chapter responded with a booth for Atheism in the state fair, a lecture on Atheism at the city library, a regular radio talk show on Atheism and the inauguration of its Dial-an-Atheist service.
In 1980, the Utah Legislature put a proposition on the ballot to broaden religious and hospital property tax exemptions. It was certain to pass, according to polls, until the Utah Chapter went to work. With TV and radio appearances, a guest editorial in the newspaper, and a lawsuit, the Utah Chapter raised enough questions in the public's mind to win the proposition's defeat.
In 1981 the Utah Chapter hosted the 11th annual National America n Atheists Convention in Salt Lake City. In. 1984 the chapter received a Chapter of the Year Award for placing 200 signs on Utah buses to advertise our Dial-an-Atheist service, taking advantage of low rates for non-profit groups.
In 1984 and 1985, Chris Allen made a series of appearances as a guest on a popular Salt Lake talk radio show (KZJO, now KTKK- AM). The- shows were well received and many atheists came forward to join us, but pressure from the religious community induced the station to institute a policy of censorship of religious that is still in effect.
In 1986 the Utah Chapter formed a project committee called Citizens For True Tax Reform to challenge religious tax exemptions. Our first project was to challenge property tax exemption for nonprofit hospitals, such as LDS and Holy Cross hospitals. Posing as health care charities, these hospitals provide proportionately about as much charity as For-profit hospitals while functioning as lucrative tax shelters for church money.
In 1986 the Legislature proposed an amendment to the Utah constitution that would give nonprofit hospitals automatic tax exemption similar to the 1980 proposition. Nonprofit hospital supporters, spent.$150,00.0 in, advertising, and. once again the polls showed the amendment was sure to pass. Citizens for True Tax Reform campaigned against the measure with a guest editorial, free TV advertisements obtained under FCC equal time laws, interviews on talk radio and a protest demonstration at LDS Hospital. This proposition too was defeated.
In 1987 CTTR testified against the nonprofit hospitals at the Salt Lake County hearing for tax exemption. We were able to persuade the commissioners to tax half the hospitals. On reviewing our testimony, the County Assessor appealed all but one of the exemptions granted by the commissioners.
In 1989 CTTR prepared a 230-page report for the State Tax Commission recommending strong standards for hospital tax exemption. In 1990 CTTR testified before the State Tax Commission criticizing the weak standards it adopted, noting that they were the same as those originally proposed by the nonprofit 'hospitals.
Also in 1990 the Utah Chapter did a study to determine how many churches were being used as polling places for public elections in Utah. Through our legal arm, the Society of Separationists, we petitioned the Attorney General to put a stop to the practice, and threatened to file suit.
In 1991 CTTR expanded its study of nonprofit hospitals to 400 pages and submitted it to 14 counties considering tax exemption. We did three one-hour talk shows on the subject, two of them debates with executives of Intermountain Health Care. We also addressed Salt Lake and Weber County Commissions seeking to persuade them to tax nonprofit hospitals, but were unsuccessful. When KSL-TV editorialized that hospitals should not be blamed for high medical costs, we gave a rebuttal arguing that we're being cheated by the nonprofit hospital tax exemption.
In 1991 the Utah Chapter sued the Utah Attorney General and the head of the State Board of Education for spending public funds in the legal defense. of prayer at public school graduation. The Utah Constitution prohibits the expenditure of public funds to support a religious exercise. We lost these cases in appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.
We then sued the Alpine School District for spending public money to file a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting graduation prayer and for deciding to do so in a secret meeting. We also sued the Alpine School District to stop graduation prayers based on violation of the Utah Constitution. Finally we sued the Salt Lake City Council to force it to stop formal opening prayers, appealing to the State Constitution's restriction against spending public funds to support a religious exercise.
The Utah Chapter has brought over a dozen prominent speakers to Utah, including Madalyn O' Hair (national founder), Jon Murray (current national president). and Barbara Smoker, president of the National Secular Society in Britain.
We also published a quarterly newsletter and mail to about 700 Utah Atheists family.
We are a very informal, laid back bunch. We are not doctrinaire, preferring a generally science oriented perspective.
Many atheists are uncomfortable with joining anything, preferring to be independent and individualistic, thinking for themselves. They are suspicious of organized atheism.
Unfortunately organization is necessary to defend atheism and atheists. Religions are highly organized, well financed, and not at all shy about imposing their beliefs on everyone else. Separation of state and church is steadily losing ground, and that will continue unless opposition is more effective. Utah Atheists is a rallying point for activism to defend our rights, and we have a long history of peaceful but firm opposition. We have fought half a dozen law suits in Utah, written newspaper articles, demonstrated, gone on radio and TV talk shows, given editorial rebuttals, and lobbied the legislature, cities, and counties.
We offer membership in American Atheists, where you can receive a newsletter, and become a real "card carrying" atheist, but it's not a requirement. If you become a member, your dues go to support the substantial activities of that organization, which includes publishing the newsletter, a magazine, a free electronic news service, and many books, producing a TV show, hosting a members-only chat group, and supporting activism for state/church separation.
Many people who have become atheists themselves are not aware of the rich background of scientific and philosophical literature supporting atheism. Utah Atheists exists to provide a resource for access to that literature. We provide multiple literature tables, and the vast majority of the literature is free. It gives people the background and confidence to explain and defend their atheism and teach it to others, including their children. Religion is mental slavery, and atheism is freedom from that slavery, so it is worth promoting.
Many atheists are not aware of the extensive harm that religion has done and continues to do to society. They accept at face value the idea that religion teaches "good, moral" behavior, and fear anarchy without it. This is church propaganda, to justify the privilege churches enjoy. Generally religion is anti-science, anti-woman, anti-reason and anti-logic. It is the greatest source of bigotry, hatred, atrocity, social division, wars and unhappiness in the world. And all too often, atheists are afraid to criticize or offend religionists and risk reprisal from them. Again, Utah Atheists is a resource for literature documenting the down side to religion.
Many atheists do not know about the theory and history of separation of state and church. They let religionists tell people that this is a Christian nation. However, America pioneered the concept of state/church separation as a fundamental component of a free society. Nations around the world have copied our example, and yet most Americans and many atheists are ignorant about it. Utah Atheists provides information.
Finally, many atheists feel isolated and alone in a religious world, especially in Utah. They feel bullied and compelled to act religious to show their neighbors they are "good" and "trustworthy". We need atheist friends and lovers, and Utah Atheists is also a resource there.
Our meetings are informal brunches. On average about 30 people come. We get people of all ages, but most are elderly since they are generally more free from the pressures of jobs and family. You are encouraged to visit with one another. We provide name tags so others can see and learn your name. We provide a program, usually a video about 30 minutes long, but sometimes a speaker, and we often have some group discussion afterwards.
This is NOT like a church where you have to keep silent, listen to a sermon, learn a doctrine or praise anything. You are respected as an intelligent individual and your input is welcome. Also several marriages have come from our meetings.
We try to keep things fun while discussing serious subjects without being stuffy. We want you to be comfortable.
We hope to see you Sunday, and every first Sunday of each month!