On March 25, 2013, Hemant Mehta led a discussion about the right to religious freedom at the Six O’Clock Series.
Specifically, Mehta talked about the constitutional right of freedom from religion and religious persecution. He pointed out that nearly a third of Americans under the age of 30 have no religious affiliation, the highest in any recorded generation. In this growing segment of “nones” are many young atheists who have faced prejudice in their high schools and communities for standing up for their constitutional right of freedom from religion. For example, one story was based on a girl named Nicole who refused to participate in the Christian-based Lord’s Prayer before her school’s basketball games. As a result, Hemant described how Nicole was kicked off of the team. He went on to describe how other kids from her school called her “devil worshipper” in the hallway and harassed her because she did not believe in God. In a video clip presented from Nicole’s televised interviews at the time, she tearfully described persecution from others at school, including teachers. Mehta talked about how stories like Nicole’s happen more than people think, and that it is everyone’s right in the United States to have freedom of speech and choice of religion, including choice of no religion.
Over 150 audience members attended Mehta’s lecture and offered thoughtful questions about his transition from growing up in a religious household to becoming an atheist. Hemant indicated his goal was to eliminate the negative stereotype of an athiest and instead reveal atheists as everyday people.
Hemant Mehta is a biology and mathematics alumnus from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has written a book, I Sold My Soul on eBay, and is the current author of his blog, The Friendly Atheist. Hemant has appeared on Fox News and CNN and has served in leadership positions for atheist organizations nationwide. He currently teaches mathematics in the suburbs of Chicago.
Hemant Mehta’s visit was cosponsored by the Secular Student Alliance at IUP. The Secular Student Alliance at IUP (SSAIUP) is committed to creating a safe, welcoming place for all atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethinker students. SSAIUP is committed to educating the IUP campus about atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism, and the rational worldview. SSAIUP is committed to human rights for all. SSAIUP is committed to the separation of church and state as outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. SSAIUP is dedicated to improving the community at IUP, as well as the world as a whole. Membership is in this organization is open to all members of the IUP community. SSAIUP copresidents Caroline Speer and Josiah Racchini provided the introduction to Monday evening’s program.
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