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The Freethought Books Project, originally started in 2005 by RSA President, Leslie Zukor, has found a new home.  The Center For Inquiry, one of the nation’s oldest freethought groups, has been coordinating the project since December of 2013.  

“CFI is a great fit for the Freethought Books Project,” Zukor explained.  “The Center For Inquiry has access to the foremost thinkers in the movement and has the resources to grow the project by leaps and bounds.”

If you have books that you would like to donate, you can contact the coordinators at freethoughtbooks@centerforinquiry.net or mail them USPS to:

Freethought Books Project
Center for Inquiry
PO Box 741
Amherst, NY 14226.


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A "Beware of Dogma" sign in Texas

A "Beware of Dogma" sign in Texas

Although religion is often benign, it is dangerous when dogma harms children.  Recently, Ava Worthington, the girl whose parents rejected conventional medicine on religious grounds, died at just fifteen months of pneumonia and a blood infection.  A course of antibiotics could have cured her.

While Worthington’s parents have been charged with manslaughter, several readers of The Oregonian have sounded off about the case.  R. Curtis Bosworth, for instance, stated that religious dogma was to blame for the neglect of Worthington.  Many others have concurred.

Although writers have understood the dangers of religious faith, Charles Hunter of Northwest Portland would prefer to side with dogma.  “I’d rather align with the religious thought that says ‘love thy neighbor,’ than with the ‘rational’ thought of [Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao], who firmly rejected religion.”

Since Leslie Zukor knows that rational thought does not lead to genocide, the Reed Secular Alliance President spoke up. “[T]he atheists I know rebuild houses in New Orleans, give food to the hungry, and donate books to prisoners,” Zukor explained in a Letter to the Editor of The Oregonian.

Putting one’s faith in an invisible entity, instead of in demonstrable science, is a recipe for disaster.

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The Survivor of a Christian Boot Camp Speaks Out

 By:  Leslie A. Zukor

Michele Ulriksen

Michele Ulriksen

Michele Ulriksen was a relatively normal Southern California teen, back in the summer of 1986.  She enjoyed the warm sun, secular music, and drank on occasion.  She even snuck out to smoke and get drunk a few times.  She watched MTV, wore red lipstick like Madonna, and had posters of music bands on her walls.  Sounds like the typical teen.  Yet, two years into her high school “rebellion”, author, Michele Ulriksen, found herself in a situation that was anything but typical.  What was supposed to be a family vacation to the San Diego Wild Animal Park ended up as a one-way ticket to an unlicensed, locked-down, reform school in Ramona, California. 

The school, Victory Christian Academy, was an all-female fundamentalist boot camp surrounded by a ten-foot high barbed wire fence.  The girls? – Everyone from atheists, to drug addicts, to lesbians in trouble with the Lord.  When the girls arrived, many kicking and screaming, they were taken to the “Get Right Room”, a pitch-black room half the size of a walk-in closet, where Jerry Falwell sermons were blasted over the stereo.  Mike Palmer, the school’s Dean, locked people in the G.R. Room for as short as hours to as long as seven days.  The rules at Victory?  No pants, no phone calls to parents for three months, and no outside visitors.  In short, the girls at Victory were caged like animals.

Why did Ulriksen’s parents take her to reform school?  It all began after she persuaded her mother to allow her to go to a secular high school.  “I…began questioning some things I had been taught from the Bible,” Ulriksen explained.  “The science I was learning at school was not in accord with the book of Genesis.  I pointed out some of the things in the Bible I considered to be fallacy.”  As was to be expected, Michele’s mother feared that the Devil had possessed her child.  However, the school for troubled teens neither helped Ulriksen nor her peers.  Most of them “got Saved” to ingratiate themselves with Victory staff, not out of a commitment to Christ.  When they were finally freed from their one-year mandatory sentences, many girls left with more problems than they began with.  In Ulriksen’s case, she experimented with drugs, something she had never done before her Victory incarceration. 

From age eighteen until twenty-four, Michele’s life “was filled with bad choices, rebellion, anger, regret, pain, drugs, alcohol, low-self image, [and] friends and men who only used [her]”.  She suffered from anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and was diagnosed with a host of different conditions by various doctors.  In short, Michele explained, “The verbal abuse and bad representation of Christianity that I had received at Victory really took a negative toll on me.”  Why did Michele Ulriksen write her book, Reform at Victory?  “The message [is] not to put your kids in these facilities,” she emphasized.  “After living an abusive religious experience, and seeing how much damage religion does in the world, I decided I wanted to speak out.”  And Michele has made more than a small impact with Reform at Victory.  After the book was published, Ulriksen collaborated with a newspaper in Victory Dean Mike Palmer’s hometown and discovered that there is a similar locked-down facility for boys in Iowa.  Now, the state is forcing the school to become licensed.

And Michele has discovered a life after Victory.  She has a daughter, is finishing her degree at Portland State, and has become very active in the freethought and secular communities.  Ulriksen is a member of Corvallis Secular Society, The Secular Coalition of America, The American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  She has spoken about her book to various audiences in the Portland-area.  And she is working to raise awareness about other such facilities in the United States.  “Parents don’t realize what goes on inside [these facilities] until it’s too late, and their teen comes out with PTSD and night terrors.  I would love to go on Radio or TV…to warn parents.”  And what a noble goal it is.  For more on Ulriksen’s work, go to http://www.reformatvictory.com.

 For more information about Michele Ulriksen, her time at Victory Christian Academy, and the dangers of unregulated religious reform schools, come to the Reed Secular Alliance’s “The Perils of the Faith Based Initiative” lecture.  The Tuesday, March 31st event starts at 7:00 pm with a Meet and Greet, followed by a 7:30 pm lecture.  The talk is located in Vollum Lecture Hall.

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Leslie Zukor shares a laugh with Daniel Dennett

Leslie Zukor shares a laugh with Daniel Dennett

Reed Secular Alliance President Leslie Zukor’s Letter to the Editor was published on OregonLive.com on Tuesday, Febuary 10th.  In it, she defended the ethics of atheists and their capacity to do good works.  She also discusses her own service with the Freethought Books Project, as well as that of her peers, one group of which went down to Louisiana to rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The morality of nontheists was under attack, due to Russell Mathews’s Letter to the Editor in last week’s Oregonian, when he suggested that “Godlessness” was to blame for the January 24th downtown shootings.  As it turns out, atheism had nothing to do with the killings.  The gunman was a young schizophrenic man without the Health Insurance to buy neuroleptic medications for his mental disorder.

Zukor was thrilled to be published on OregonLive.  “It’s great to stand up for your [secular] values,” she said.  “I consider myself to be an atheist, as well as an advocate for the mentally ill.  There’s no way that ‘Godlessness’ had anything to do with the murders.  Universal healthcare could have eliminated all of this, and the gunman, who committed suicide, could have had a reasonably productive life.”

One response to Zukor’s Letter to the Editor wasn’t positive.  “You’re only an atheist until you feel the unknown.  Your time will come; have patience.”  The blogger assumed that Zukor’s atheism is only based on inexperience.  That is hardly the case, according to the RSA President.  “I’ve faced a lot of adversity in life.  It’s only through my struggles that I’ve realized that an all-good and all-powerful God, who at the same time permits evil, cannot by necessity exist.”

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Beyond First Impressions

The Westboro Baptist Church is known for its controversial eschatology and its hatred of homosexuals.  But is there a psychological basis for Pastor Fred Phelps’s hatred?  How better to find out than to listen to Phelps’s estranged children.  In this video, the children who have left the fold say that their father’s ill will toward homosexuality is just one part of a larger world of hate. 

“[Phelps] had the emotional maturity, in my view, maybe of a fourth grader – and that’s on a good day!”, says one of Phelps’s estranged daughters.  And as bad as it is for the victims of Westboro’s protests, it was worse for the Phelps’s children.  They were beaten to the point of suffering serious injuries, and this propensity for violence led many of them to abandon the Church.

In short, there is far more to the Westboro Baptist Church than is immediately apparent.

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New Name

The Reed College Freethinkers are now the Reed Secular Alliance! Club “scribe”, Secretary Tina Le believes that this will be a good change, because it emphasizes the “coalitional nature” of the club. Members may not agree on everything, but we still work together, because of our common secular framework.

Of the name Freethinkers, club Vice-President, Roy Staples, believed that it was “a little dated.” Furthermore, RSA member Tracy Mehoke explained, “I never could understand what Freethinkers meant exactly. Reed Secular Alliance is just so much more clear.” We hope that with the new name, that we will have a promising future as a club at Reed.

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The Freethinkers' Provocative Logo
The Freethinkers’ Provocative Logo

From the beginning, the Reed College Freethinkers were beset by controversy. Led by passionate Signator Leslie Zukor, the group was criticized for using the term “Freethinkers”. Instead of looking the word up on Wikipedia to understand its practical applications, more theoretically minded Reedies accused the club of implying that non-members were not critical thinkers.

“Many of us have thought about religious questions for our whole lives,” one student explained. “And we have found that there are limits to rationality.” While the student was entitled to her opinion, certain students taunted Freethinkers’ members with reckless abandon.

While attendance at the first several meetings was 10 or greater, as time wore on, many club members reported to Zukor that their House Advisors were mocking the club, and that they no longer felt comfortable attending meetings.

This was a shame, because Leslie Zukor only contended that she wanted to increase critical thinking at Reed, where many students felt that Reed was freethinking enough.

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