Interview with Tee Rogers (Humanist Chaplain) of BE. Orlando Humanist Fellowship

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Tee Rogers is a Humanist Chaplain and a Member of the BE. Orlando Humanist Fellowship. Here we talk about BE., secularism and humanism in Orlando, the mission and mandate of the organization, its impacts on the community, and more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Why was BE. founded?

Tee Rogers: BE. was founded on September 2, 2011. Although founded by Atheists, our original focus was simply community service; however, very soon we realized that addressing prejudice against non-religious people at charitable organizations needed to be part of our mission and goals. Charities are statistically faith-biased organizations, yet the secular demographic is quickly growing. Atheists, Humanists, Freethinkers, and other non-religious or minority religion identities sometimes avoid volunteering, donating, pursuing careers in social service, or even seeking assistance when they are in need because of the potential bias against them. If they do engage with charities, it is often “in the closet”, hiding their non-faith to avoid confrontation and discrimination. 

Many members and friends shared stories about their experiences at charities:

  • Not sure how to find a non-religious charity to support;
  • Not wanting to bring children to a charity to volunteer and have them proselytized to;
  • Fearing a confrontation or not feeling comfortable speaking up;
  • When I see a charity with a big cross out front, I feel like the message is: “NOT YOU”;
  • Not wanting to be forced to pray or listen to indoctrinating music;
  • Worries that people in charity work see themselves as “saviors” and will try to “save”;
  • Some worry that having Atheist sticker on their car might mean damage to their car if they park it at the charity;
  • Even if I’m just helping to do something like paint a playground, I feel like I’m part of their efforts to force religion on their clients.  I don’t want to be part of that.
  • I am religious, but I have friends and family who are not.  How can we find a place to volunteer where we are all welcome?
  • …And many more.

People shouldn’t have to hide a core part of their identity in order to make a positive difference – and certainly no one should have to pray to someone else’s G/god(s) in order to feed their hungry children.  

Secular people are increasing in number and visibility; charitable organizations and businesses for which faith is part of their mission or services need to understand the impact of their faith bias. It can cause stakeholders – potential employees, donors, volunteers, clients, investors – to hesitate, or avoid connection altogether.  Further, those who have experienced faith-related discrimination or bullying may fear being – or actual be – further victimized by the organization.  Any charity, physical or mental health professional, or other human service should be including secular identity in the diversity training they provide to their employees and volunteers. 

And we help with that.

Through service and education, we foster an inclusive culture in our non-profit sector and beyond so that people of all identities are welcomed and respected.  We battle stereotypes while making a difference in our community by serving together visibly as a non-religious, Humanist organization. We also offer consultations and trainings for charities and businesses about inclusion for all religious, secular, and spiritual identities.

Jacobsen: What is the importance of the secular and humanist worldview in Orlando?

Rogers: Central Florida has an amazing and rich secular community – and just like everywhere else, that community is growing.  We have a strong network of organizations here building support, opportunity, and visibility for non-religious people.   

The largest is Central Florida Freethought Community.  As a chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, they focus on separation of church and state issues, spearhead invocations at government agencies across Central Florida, and provide educational and social opportunities for their members. Florida Atheists, Critical Thinkers, and Skeptics (F.A.C.T.S.) is primarily a member-led social group.

We also have smaller organizations that are focused on specific issues and provide specialized support.  For example, there are chapters here of Black Nonbelievers and Hispanic American Freethinkers to serve those who face the intersections of being atheists and from cultures and communities where religious integration is so much a part of the cultural identity that being non-religious can be seen as traitorous to the family, the race, or society as a whole.  Black and Hispanic non-believers are much more likely face loss of loved ones and support systems when they come out as non-religious.  There are also organizations like the Science League for Kids and secular parent groups.  And of course, BE. Orlando – bringing compassionate non-religious people together for volunteering and philanthropy.

This ever-growing network of communities and support systems reflects the importance of secular and Humanist worldviews in the greater Orlando area.

Jacobsen: What are its mission and mandate?

Rogers: Mission Statement: “BE. brings compassionate atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other non-religious identities, as well as allies of faith, together to make a difference in the community and overcome stereotypes about non-religious people through service and education.”

You’ll notice that we include “allies of faith” in our mission.  We have Christian, Muslim, and other religious or spiritual members who share our vision of a world free from prejudice against the non-religious. Serving together builds bridges across our differences – we have to be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others and work together to make this world a better place.  Although we are a secular organization, we advocate for equitable inclusion for religious, secular, and spiritual identities. 

We connect with local charitable agencies to find out how we can help them, and we set up opportunities for our members to volunteer at those organizations.  We also work to find opportunities that are inspiring to our scientifically-minded members – for example, over the holidays we spearhead a STEM-themed gift drive; on Pi Day we host a Math, Science, & Pi(e) event for at-risk youth; to combat summer reading loss we host a spring book drive for stem-themed books and books authored by or highlighting women and minorities in science and other successful roles.

Jacobsen: What are the important effects for the community of BE.?

Rogers: Increased inclusion, collaboration, and impact.

Diverse identities are all around us – including secular identities in increasing numbers.  We must ensure that those individuals are recognized and welcomed as part of the fabric of our communities. This increases the well-being of secular individuals and our community as a whole. As we continue to raise awareness of the negative impacts of faith-biased non- and for-profit business, and to build opportunities for connection and visibility for secular people, our community becomes stronger and better able to serve diverse stakeholders.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the BE. community?

Rogers: Just visit http://JustGottaBE.org. You can click on “join” and become a member – it’s free. You can elect to join our private meetup to volunteer with us in Central Florida, or just receive our monthly newsletter. Please consider sharing our site with friends or family who live or vacation in Central Florida!  The more compassionate people we have involved, the greater the change we can make in the world around us.

You could share your experiences at local  or national charities and businesses. There’s a place on our website to share a review: https://justgottabe.org/review-a-charity/

Jacobsen: How can other states in the United States replicate the positive community benefits of BE.?

Rogers: There is a national organization called the Foundation Beyond Belief that promotes secular volunteerism and philanthropy.  They have “teams” – and any secular organization can become a team.  When you sign up you become part of the national effort and you can win awards and apply for grants. It is an amazing organization.  Learn more about them at https://foundationbeyondbelief.org/.

One of the most common biases against non-religious people is the misperception that one cannot be a good human being without God: that without religion, one can’t be kind, civically engaged, or compassionate.  Join and support local, regional, and national secular organizations that volunteer.  If you’re a member of a secular organization that isn’t volunteering, suggest it as an activity. If you don’t have a local secular organization, start one. 

I would encourage everyone to seek out the Atheist, Humanist, or Freethought organizations in your areas. But if you’re not a joiner, you can work to expand your own kindness footprint through your individual volunteerism and philanthropy. And if you feel safe doing so, wear a shirt or pin that identifies you as a non-religious. BE. the example: people can be good without God/s.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?

Rogers: Just gratitude that there are other people out there who care about these issues. Thank you for sharing this story, and I hope it encourages others to address these issues in their own communities.  I’m always grateful to speak with like-minded activists; if I can help in any way just connect with me through our website.

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

Rogers: Thank YOU, Scott.  We’re honoured to share BE. Orlando’s story with your Canadian Atheist audience.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by Millie Olsen on Unsplash

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