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Ask Annie Laurie 3 – A-Divine Divides: Free Expression and Speech, and Social Justice


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/09/11

Annie Laurie Gaylor is the Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) with Dan Barker. She has been part of the fight against the encroachment of religion on secular culture, and human and women’s rights for decades. She is the author of Woe to Women: The Bible Tells Me So (FFRF, Inc., 1981), Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children (FFRF, Inc., 1988), and Women Without Superstition: “No Gods – No Masters” (FFRF, Inc. 1997). Annie Laurie is among the most respected and prominent freethought women in the region, in North America.

Here we talk about social activism in secular communities.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Non-religious communities can, at times, differ in the emphasis of values. In a modern and, often, online context, some value freedom of speech, if American, or freedom of expression, if Canadian or globally-oriented, more. Others value social justice, based on human rights and equality. What appears to explain the difference in the emphasis of values in the non-religious or secular communities?

Annie Laurie Gaylor: Of course, in the U.S., we think of “free speech” probably because of the First Amendment. The underlying principle of the First Amendment is freedom of conscience: religious, political, speech (expression), the right to petition our government for redress of grievances.  I think many freethinking or secular U.S. groups are very much engaged with human rights, equality and social justice, especially humanists who have a broad agenda. I do not really know what accounts for the difference, but I do know that ex-Muslims in the European Union (and UK) are very opposed to “identity politics,” which is used against them as they are often branded “Islamophobes” for speaking out against the Muslim religion or their treatment by Muslims. So sometimes there is tension between freethought rights and what is generally lumped together under social justice.

Jacobsen: It shows in the epithets, too. For example, some refer to individuals who value social justice more as Social Justice Warriors or SJWs. Some refer to individuals who value free expression or free speech more as Free Speech Warriors. How can a-religious communities engender a sub-culture away from epithets and more towards common values and civil disagreements?

Gaylor: We don’t use the term “warriors” at FFRF. The best way to have harmony in any society is to keep religion and dogma out of it. That values all citizens equally and should promote civil discourse and an emphasis on what we share in common, rather than what divides us.

Jacobsen: Many women appear to report a different form of online harassment if public in their secularism or advocacy of women’s rights: often sexual or gender-based forms of harassment. Can you relay some of the differences, please?

Gaylor: The language of the bible is not only misogynistic, but often lewd about “uppity” women or women in general. So it doesn’t surprise me if religion’s male followers take a page from the bible to demean women who publicly make known their dissent from religion or act as autonomous human beings. Or even if just nominally religious men feel entitled to take potshots. Patriarchal religions ultimately despise women, and demand subservience, so feminist or secular spokeswomen are daring to defy these strictures. When the first women’s rights proponents in the United States spoke, they were often mobbed, lights were turned out, they were humiliated, scorned, and the press went after them. Same old, same old! Elizabeth Cady Stanton reminisced that “The bible was hurled at us from every side.” But still, they persisted!

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Annie Laurie.

Annie Laurie: Thanks for asking, Scott.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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