The Campaign for Free Expression is a CFI initiative to focus efforts and attention on one of the most crucial components of freethought: the right of individuals to express their viewpoints, opinions, and beliefs about all subjects.
Timely aspects of the Campaign:
- International Blasphemy Rights Day: September 30
- Banned Books Week (coordinated by the American Library Association): September 23–29, 2018
- ALA has Banned Books Week promotional tools and products to help get the word out!
“So, what can my student group do?”
Your group can participate in a wide range of activities—from lectures and educational presentations to in-your-face blasphemy events—to challenge complacency and raise awareness about impediments to free expression locally, at the regional level, and worldwide. Understandably, some of the events below might not fit with the mission of your campus group or with the climate of your campus or community.
Note: Make sure to investigate university regulations before engaging in potentially offensive activities. You can always publicize and protest harsh or unfair restrictions, but you should be aware of activities that could result in punishment or de-recognition for your club.
During Banned Books Week (September 23–29, 2018):
- Lecture/Presentation: Invite a school librarian or other speaker to give a presentation on censorship, book banning, blasphemy, and/or free speech.
- Banned Books Readout: Invite group members and passers-by to read aloud sections from their favorite banned and challenged books in a public area on campus.
- Food for Freethought: The Metro State Atheists at Metropolitan College of Denver came up with this service project idea. During Banned Books Week, they gave away donated books to students who bring in non-perishable food items to be donated to a food bank.
For International Blasphemy Rights Day (September 30):
- Free Speech demonstration in a public area of campus. Some ideas:
- 90-Second Megaphone: Anyone can come up and use the megaphone for 90 seconds to say anything, no matter how blasphemous or offensive. (You could also use a soapbox-style small platform for the speakers.)
- Blasphemy Boards: Hang posterboard or butcher paper for anyone to write on.
- Post-It Board display: Anyone can come up throughout the day to write on a Post-It note that is then stuck to a display board for the day.
- Blasphemous Art Display: Partner with the college Art Department or with art students and have a blasphemous art show or demonstration in a public area on campus.
- Blasphemous Day of Service: Curious as to how to turn this into a service project? On the Sabbath (Sunday) close to September 30, your club can engage in a day of volunteer work! After all, in Exodus 31:15 it says, “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.”
- Blasphemy Comedy Night: Comedy shows are a fun and inexpensive way to celebrate free expression. Most college campuses have improv and comedy groups that are happy to perform at student events. Ask around and see if you can find comedians who will support the campaign—they’re usually supportive since comedy can be a social commentary that is often funniest when it is both outrageous and true. Check out CFI’s Speakers Bureau or email us if you would like help booking a comedian.
- Blasphemy Game Night: Host a social game night with the games “Blasphemy: The Race to the Cross” and “Playing Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination“; or, you can create your own Blasphemy Pictionary and Blasphemy Charades.
- Screening of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an irreverent film that has been banned in some areas for its blasphemous content.
- Deity Drawing Contest: This is well-suited to tabling in a public area. Provide basic drawing supplies (crayons, pencils, paper) for a contest where the best drawing of a deity wins a prize! Drawings can, of course, be of deities like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Zeus, or Cthulhu. Make sure to collect names and contact information for each submission so that the winner can be contacted.
- Pascal’s Wager Wheel: Create a spinner labeled with different gods. Then, invite passers-by to spin the wheel to find out which deity Pascal’s Wager applies to for that person.
- Soul Exchange: Invite people to trade their souls for delicious home-baked cookies or cupcakes.
- Bus and Billboard Campaigns: Work in coalition with local groups to sponsor atheist/humanist/secular bus or billboard ads in the community. Many municipalities and transit authorities have refused to run these ads—find out if they’ll fly in your area! (It’s also a good way to attract new members to your group.)
- Chalking for Reason:
- Chalk quotes around campus from famous freethinkers, secularists, atheists, etc.
- Chalk about campus/community free expression concerns (like books that have been challenged or banned in local school districts).
- Flyering for Free Expression: Research speech restrictions on campus (including in residence halls). Create flyers that publicize vague and limiting restrictions on speech through flyering, leading up to possible petitioning and challenging the regulations.
For the Campaign for Free Expression:
If you have new ideas about ways that students and campus groups can get involved promoting freedom of expression, let us know! Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll add your idea to the list. And remember, if you are doing a campus event for International Blasphemy Rights Day or Banned Books Week that’s open to the public, let us know so that we can publicize it in your region!
Other resources online:
- Article 19: The Global Campaign for Free Expression
- The Freedom of Thought Report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union
- Index on Censorship
- National Coalition Against Censorship
Campaign for Free Expression student-related events in the media:
- The Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison hosted a “Stone a Heathen” event featuring Dan Barker from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to mark IBRD and raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. A conservative website took note: “The Reason Atheist Activists Are Inviting People to ‘Stone’ Them“, The Blaze, 9/24/2013
- Grand View University, Des Moines, IA:
- “Blasphemy Day expresses freedom of speech“, The Grand Views, 9/14/2012
- “Blasphemy Day Celebration leaves its mark across campus“, The Grand Views, 10/5/12
- From secular activist Ellery Schempp: “An Address on Blasphemy Day, Sunday, September 30, 2012“, Concord Area Humanists, 9/30/2012
- Freethought Alliance at the University of Saskatchewan:
- “Students clash in the Tunnel over religious satire on International Blasphemy Rights Day“, The Sheaf, 10/10/12
- “U of S students celebrate Blasphemy Day“, CBC News | Saskatchewan, 10/2/2012
- “International Blasphemy Day“, Radio Canada International, 10/3/2012
- The Illini Secular Student Alliance at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign celebrated by hosting comedian Jamie Kilstein one evening, then performing hair dryer debaptisms and inviting students to contribute to a “Wall o’ Blasphemy” the next day.
- Grand View University, Des Moines, IA:
- A member also made a video explaining their reasons for doing the event.
- The school paper, the Daily Illini, ran several op-eds disagreeing with the event, and ISSA responded.
A summary of articles can be found on The Course of Reason blog: “Blasphemy Rights Day 2011: In Case You Missed It”, 10/5/2011
- Secular Student Society at Texas Tech: “Organization promotes National Blasphemy Day”, The Daily Toreador, 10/1/2010
- Secular Humanists for Inquiry and Free Thought at Northwestern University:
- Atheist and Agnostic Society at Iowa State University: “Blasphemy Rights Day leaves its mark at Iowa State”, IowaStateDaily.com, 9/30/2010
- SUNY Oswego Secular Student Alliance: “SUNY Oswego Secular Student Alliance to Host ‘Free Speech Zone’”, OswegoCountyToday.com, 9/28/2010
- University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers:
- “When the spotlight goes off”, Northern Iowan, 10/7/2010
- “Students react to Blasphemy Rights Day”, Northern Iowan, 10/5/2010
- “Tales Told Out of School: Blasphemy Day meets the University of Northern Iowa“, Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 30 Number 5 (Aug./Sept. 2010)
Blog posts by campus groups
- Atheist and Agnostic Society at Iowa State University: “Blasphemy Day shows support for freedom of expression”, IowaStateDaily.com, 9/28/2010
- University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers: “Blasphemy Rights Day 2010: Why are we doing this?”, UNIFI blog, 9/30/2010
- Freethinkers at the University of South Florida: “Blasphemy Day encourages free thinking“, Tampa Bay Online, 9/30/2009
- University at Buffalo Freethinkers: “The only sacred right is for every individual to be able to speak freely on any subject“, ubspectrum.com, 10/5/2009
- University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers: “Celebration of International Blasphemy Day offends, raises questions over free speech“, northern-iowan.org, 10/5/2009
- Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA!) at Stanford: “Banned Books Event at Stanford“, The Stanford Review, 10/9/2009