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When the spotlight goes off

Published: Thursday, October 7, 2010

Updated: Thursday, October 7, 2010 11:10

Last week, as you all probably know by now, was International Blasphemy Rights Day. This publication has been full of coverage from general overviews to opinion pieces urging us to do everything from ignore the day to embrace it. As the president of the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers, I certainly support it -- but this article isn't to harp on the day, it's to call on everyone to act with the same passion and excitement regardless of the day.

UNIFI's chalking on Blasphemy Rights Day was quickly matched, and surpassed, by a barrage of chalk from BASIC members. A rough guesstimate puts it at over 50 religious students who came out at 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night to chalk Bible verses. This sort of effort is unprecedented and it didn't end there. The next day, more students came out to pray and chalk, and discussion about Blasphemy Rights Day was everywhere.

Not all religious students were fully in support of the fervor of this response. UNI Navigators member Mikayla Thompson commented on, UNIFI's blog, about the tendency of Christians to only make a stand once a year. I won't try to paraphrase her words; they were perfectly said.

"The same Christians that come out to chalk up the campus, could take a stand for their faith in a classroom or share the gospel with the people in their dorms, but many seem to prefer to chalk a nice Bible verse… They could openly profess their faith and share their opinion at a faith forum and meet people that have a different belief, and heaven forbid, maybe even make a friend that happens to be an atheist. But rather than doing these things, they call people names behind their back…"

Junior English major Rachel Riesberg disagreed on Facebook. "It's the same idea as an anti-protest. Christians post on (B)lasphemy (Rights) (D)ay the same way gay rights supporters protest the actions against the laremy (sic, recte Laramie) project. they're (sic) always gay rights supporters, they're just louder about it in the face of adversity."

While I agree we can find some parallels between the Westboro protest and Blasphemy Rights Day protests, I don't think that justifies it. In fact, I believe it says more about the Westboro protests than anything else.

Why is there such an obsession at UNI and society in general with only making a stand when the spotlight is on? In the past year, we've seen an obsession with the Iranian "Green" revolution that ended before the deaths of Iranians did, a caring for Haiti that evaporated before the nation was rebuilt and an obsession with oil-filled oceans that ended before anything was cleaned. We only care while the news is covering it, and then we toss the issue aside with the newspapers on it.

UNI is no better. Hundreds of students gathered to protest Westboro -- a largely symbolic issue that did nothing to advance the gay rights movement. Few of those counterprotesters have ever worked with UNI Proud to foster a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community and even fewer have worked with One Iowa at UNI to keep gay marriage legal in the state. But when the spotlight was on, they were willing to reschedule work and skip classes. Where is that effort the other 363 days of the year?

Blasphemy Rights Day saw the same thing. Students amassed for a largely empty gesture. Is anyone going to be converted through chalking? Let's be realistic. Would the same number of students be willing to come out to volunteer? To proselytize? To talk with the non-religious? To chalk on any other day of the year? Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'd be shocked if they did.

I may find some disagreement from my secular friends with this, but I support proselytizing from religious people. You have to believe that I, along with many other students, am condemned to eternal damnation unless I change my ways. If you're a caring person with any sense of empathy how could you not proselytize?! I can fathom no greater purpose in life than bringing people to God, if you're religious. That means on all 365 days, not just the one when someone is mean about your beliefs.

I'm reminded of Judy Shepard's talk to a packed GBPAC. She called on everyone to do more than just come to a counterprotest. She urged everyone in attendance to go out, get involved, make phone calls and make a difference in the political process. This attitude shouldn't end with gay rights. We should always seek to buck apathy and do something, even when the spotlight is no longer shining.


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