Interview with Gerardo Miguel Rivera – Leadership Council, Latinx Humanist Alliance, & Vice President, Secular Humanist Association UPRM

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Gerardo Miguel Rivera is part of the Leadership Council for the Latinx Humanist Alliance and the Vice President for the Secular Humanist Association UPRM (University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez University Campus). Rivera is an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez University Campus. He is on the Board of Directors of Secular Humanists of Puerto Rico and the Youth Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church & State (AU), as well as the National Leadership Council of Secular Student Alliance. In addition to this, he is a representative of Puerto Rico to Humanists International.

Here, we talk about his life, work, views, and some more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, with regards to secular humanist and similar values, what was the early development of those for you?

Gerardo Miguel Rivera: It is a kind of intermediately long story. Since I was very small in Puerto Rico, I was born in a city called Mayagüez. Ever since I was pretty small, I have always enjoyed science and biology in particular, studying animals and plants.

My family, though my father, from a small boy until about 13 or 14 years old or a young teen, took me to temple. The only good thing was studying the Bible in detail. Even though, I got the pretty detailed study of thr Bible and Christianity in general.

I was never extremely keen on participating in the religious activities. After that subsided, and he stopped taking me to his temple for whatever reason (which is still unclear to me), my mom saw this as a golden opportunity to decide to take her son to a church, a Catholic Church.

Interestingly enough, my mom and dad got married and, obviously, divorced. Even though, they were from different religions at the time. They ended up getting married in a Presbyterian church [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: They figured, “Since we’re from different religions, let’s just get a middle ground and pick some other religion.” That is liberal enough from either of their churches. They decided to get married in the that Presbyterian church.

Ironically, I became an atheist, right?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: We’ve got everyone’s perspective in the spectrum in our family. Even after my mom started taking me all to her Catholic activities, Confirmation and studying the Catholic bases, (before I continue, I should say) when my father took me to the temple, I already had Catholic Baptism from the start because Jehovah’s Witnesses baptisms are when you’re old enough to accept Jesus into your heart.

As I was saying, I was never, ever extremely religious. I remember, since I started in the temple and then going to Catholic masses and studying Catholicism, having stronger questions and criticism.

I remember when taking confirmation classes. I would ask the Catholic teacher, “Why is so and so like this? This doesn’t make sense. Science says this.” It was always an inner battle that things did not make sense.

I was always, in that sense, very open-minded. I think stuff is lucky for me. I lived mostly with my mom. Even luckier, in the sense that my family was never, my mother was never conservative enough to ingrain religion in my mind.

I always had the choice to criticize and be open-minded, not like in other families, which my girlfriend may have been stunted by religious “oppression.” I consider myself very lucky in that sense.

When people ask me about my mother, I say, “I am lucky that she was Catholic. She was pretty laid back.” I call her a “Light Catholic,” because, now, she is more liberal on the stances on religion.

She thinks there is this general being that exists that controls good and bad, but she is criticized, a lot, the Catholic Church, particularly for their obvious cover-ups of a sexual nature. She is very keen to criticize organized religion.

She likes to, sometimes, criticize the various aspects of why religion may not be that great. She still believes in this general deity up there. She accepts my being an atheist and a humanist. I have had these questions over various times.

Because sadly, the only person who doesn’t know that I am an atheist is my father. I do not have a very good relationship with my father. Because he is not a great dad, since I was a teen. Even though, I really had a chance to tell him. I didn’t.

I regret not telling him because he is more fundamentalist in a sense. I can’t fathom him. What would be his reaction if he found out that I do not believe in God? Years ago, I criticized his religious hypocrisy. It was not a good result in a conversation, to say the least.

Any further questions? [Laughing]

Jacobsen: What is your involvement with the secular and the humanist community in Puerto Rico now?

Rivera: You might find this interesting. Specifically, when I started using the label atheist, it was when I was in high school. When I started high school, here it might be slightly different, I started in 10th grade. Now, it is 9th here.

I did start using the word “atheist” to refer to myself. I noticed, in my high school, they were tending to do these religious activities. The main one was one occasion when my school started organizing, in the middle of the school, religious activities.

You could not argue that they were not religious.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: These students lead, and organized by two teachers, and started these masses in the middle of the school with drums, musical instruments, and then they’d talk about religion. I was not happy.

Specifically, here in Puerto Rico, the Constitution here says, ‘There will be a separation of church and state…’, which is something I am proud of – having a constitution that is fairly nuanced on this specific issue.

Interestingly enough, it is because of the religious minorities on the island asked for this to be put in the Constitution because of the fear of the Catholic majority potentially discriminating against them and then using the Constitution against them.

I remember being mad, because after I realized it was an inappropriate action from the school and by these teachers to be organizing such an activity during school hours. I entered the school’s library pretty upset and talked to some of my friends.

Now, when I think about, there was a friend who was an atheist, too. Now that I think about it, I am surprised there was another outspoken atheist in my school [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: I was explaining being upset at such actions in a school. I remember the librarian – a lovely and very helpful woman – coming to me and saying, “Maybe, if you do not like what happens in the school, perhaps, you can go to another part of the school where it is far away, so you do not get upset.’

[Laughing] I told her straight up, “This shouldn’t be happening in the first place. So, I shouldn’t have to be moving because this is an inappropriate activity on school grounds and during school hours.”

She didn’t like that answer to say the least. That is when I decided to write a letter to the school and the administration to collect the signatures for myself and from fellow students. They were, mostly, for being from another religion.

For example, I remember a girl who was Jewish. She was not very religious. Now, I know: she is agnostic. It is interesting to note people who studied religion with you were less religious than thought [Laughing].

I wrote this letter. I have it. I still keep a copy of the signed letter. I talk to this teacher who was a Catholic. She was my biology teacher. She happened to be a lawyer. I remember her telling me. Even though, I am religious. I know these activities should not be happening.

They completely violate church and state separation. They are coercing students to participate in an activity that should not happen in the first place. I was pleased to have her and another teacher – the history teacher – to lend their help to me, in these endeavours.

I wrote the letter. I went to the school director. Whoever I deemed necessary, I ended up having a meeting with all of them. I explained why it was that this was incorrect [Laughing]; that they were potentially risking getting sued if something happened.

The school director completely agreed with me. The only she said, “I am from a minority religion.” I don’t remember the specific religion. But it was very minority [Laughing] here on the island.

“Even though, I agree with you. I don’t know what to do. You’re right. But the majority of the school is participating in this and taking part in this. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to break up this lovey-dovey moment, as they’re happy about it.”

She didn’t know what to do. I told her, “You have to find a way to make these activities stop or to allow them to continue doing them that is more neutral, does not mention a god, and are less cultish” [Laughing], in a sense.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: If you can tell them to do this in a more neutral way, I do not have a problem in doing this in a more reflectionary way. I do not have a problem with it. I remember going to the teacher who is one of the organizers of the activities.

I told her why I think it is inappropriate. She was not happy. She was very, very, very religious, devout Christian. She said that if she was not allowed to continue these on school grounds; she would move them to a public space across the school.

I told her, “Isn’t that correct? It isn’t that moral of you, right? It means you’re willing to move the activity during school hours across the street in which students are not allowed to leave school grounds during that time. Are you encouraging students to cut classes and participate in this activity? If they cross the street and, let’s say, they tragically get hit by a car. Are you willing to take responsibility for influencing them?”

She denied that she would take responsibility for any of that. I told her, “I don’t know if Jesus would approve of that” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: That was clearly the first instance of trying for church-state separation. I think it is a common thing for most newcomers, the young students in this movement, right? It is becoming more and more common for students to be finding that their schools, or whatever, are church-run spaces or are becoming more religiously incorrectly influenced.

Because my stance will always be that I am not against religion. I completely pro-people being able to manifest their religious rights. But we want the government to be neutral, but towards believers and non-believers alike.

Some of my best friends are religious. They understand that clearly. That’s what I see as, for now at least, my goal in life, to be the best example for my younger peers. That we can, actually, live a moral life without religion.

Luckily enough for me, as we all know, the younger you are; the more receptive you are to these secular values. So, at least in Puerto Rico, we are gaining substantial ground with the youth. They may not know or do not know they are an atheist.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: Because they have not been confronted with the word “atheist.” I have interacted with people in conferences for the Secular Humanist Association UPRM. Sometimes, they tell their stories. It is always thrilling for me.

People are trying to get help and saying, “I am experiencing this at my school. I don’t know what to do. They are trying to push religion down our throats, practically. I have this awesome opportunity to work with people who are awesome.”

Working with people who are awesome, like Shirley, or my group or a campus diversity group, even students who come with all of these different viewpoints, something that I am very, very keen on, currently.

It is something that I think the movement should focus on. Sometimes, I criticize the secular movement because I, personally and most of us, tend to be very, very liberal. Knowing most of us have progressive values, I think, sometimes, we should act in such a way, so we can make sure people who are not necessarily that progressive or liberal-leaning are more conservative and find themselves more comfortable.

Because it is never going to be an easy battle to get more people on our side if they do not, actually, start acting within us. There are people. Specifically, those who come from religiously regressive families.

They do not know how to interact with those who are not religious. They are scared. They are getting this complete image of what being a secular humanist is. They can be overwhelmed at times. I try to be as politically neutral as possible.

In my group, I am happy to be as inclusive and open as I can. We want as much of the social, political, and economic spectrum as we can. Secularism is not just a closed box. It is more complicated than it is for a lot of people.

So, yes, Scott, any further questions? [Laughing]

Jacobsen: [Laughing] what are the major secular policy and political issues in Puerto Rico now?

Rivera: I can only speak for the Secular Humanist Association UPRM. It is practically the same for Shirley’s group too. Currently, in Puerto Rico, from the secular humanist group, we are, mainly, the first active group fighting for church and state separation.

Specifically, LGBT rights, we are very keen on social justice in lots of aspects. We try, our work specifically is against the legislative actions that are currently happening. We always have them happening.

If I can be more specific on more recent events happening here, just yesterday, the House of Representative has been dancing around and considering, since 2017, these bills to apply here a more aggressive version of the Religious Restoration Act, which Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

It has been an uphill battle fighting against this bombardment of things being fought against here because, sadly, Puerto Rico, even though, we have a very, very bad situation with secular issues and with trying to maintain our wall of separation; sadly, we have, practically, a non-existent, except for a few, lawyers and policy activists.

Those willing to fight against these forest policies trying to be pushed. Normally, in the U.S. and in other states, you have the ACLU, and other groups, willing to help. Here in Puerto Rico, the ACLU and other groups including us as a secular humanist organization are in over our heads.

We have so much to do, so little funds. We are sparsely staffed most of the time. We, sometimes, have to depend on U.S. organizational help with more capacity than us. Sometimes, even that, it doesn’t help because we need somebody who is locally based to help us.

Luckily, we have some magnificent lawyers who give more than an arm and a leg to be constantly in this uphill battle. Normally, in the U.S., it is easier to get the documentation that you have. But here, there’s way too many violations in how documents are stored, if they are available to the public, which [Laughing] most of the time they are.

[Laughing] sometimes, in an illegal way, they are not. There is currently some construction being done on this plaza completely motivated by religion. It is a religious construction. It is going to have a religious statue in the middle, apparently. We are having trouble accessing some documents that we need to prove that some impropriety is happening.

Above the senate, the president and the house speaker are [Laughing] trying to, or toying with us, prevent us getting those documents. We focus on those issues. Because, luckily, Puerto Rico tends to be socially progressive, at least.

In my opinion, but if you ask people like Eva Quinones, she will say, “Puerto Rico is very socially conservative, but economically not” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: Maybe, I have a more optimistic view of Puerto Rico. Besides that, something that I got instantly inspired from. I have wanted for a long time to start doing humanist ceremonies here in Puerto Rico.

To my unhappy reality, and for Eva’s and others’, Puerto Ricans can’t have humanist weddings because our civil code does not make this possible. We hope to be campaigning in the future. Already, we are. That is one of my focuses.

I am very keen on that. Our fellow friends who are atheists, obviously, from the Pastafarian Church can, and often do, perform these ceremonies. We do not want to necessarily register our organization as a church.

We do not think this is appropriate for us or our members. But hopefully, we can manage to change the laws. So, it can be open enough to allow us to perform, in the future, our humanist ceremonies. Any other specific questions? I hope I am answering your questions as best I can [Laughing].

Jacobsen: They are good answers, thank you. Another question, who are infamous political and policymaking actors who stand against secular reform progression and change in Puerto Rico?

Rivera: [Laughing] that’s a great question. That is what I call my “Black List.”

Jacobsen: Ha!

Rivera: In Puerto Rico, mostly nobody knows about our political state here. Obviously, we have the Lower house and Upper House, our Senate and House. The President of the Senate is called Thomas Rivera Schatz. The President of the House, as we call it, is called (the chair) Carlos Johnny Méndez, so Johnny Mendez or Johnny.

They are both from the New Progressive Party, ironically called. It Spanish it is called Partido Nuevo Progresista, PNP. It is one of our three main longstanding parties here. The New Progressive Party is only progressive in the sense that it wants Puerto Rico to be a state, as it is a state party.

Interestingly enough, our political parties are based not on necessarily normal policies on economics and stuff like that. It depends on whether you want Puerto Rico to be a U.S. state or an independent nation, or just be the current territorial status with the U.S.

So, these political representatives mostly belong to the PNP, which, as I already explained, is only progressive in Puerto Rico only being a state. Its policy is not socially progressive. Those leaders of the House and of the Senate are from that party.

They have constantly, constantly, manifest that they want to push more religious fundamentalist bills. They have stated this constantly in the past; that they are willing, they are willing, to put religion over our Constitution.

They have stated that clearly in the past. We have another, specifically, a member of that party. Her name is María Milagros Charbonier Laurean. We call her Tata. No [Laughing], when I say, “Tata,” there is no connotation to breasts, obviously.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: It is a word that people here use to refer to a mother figure or mother figures, sometimes. She is extremely, extremely religious regressive. She has constantly been, if there is somebody that comes to mind when you speak about religion in Puerto Rico, the figurehead.

She has been the main promoter of bills in the House. She is a Member of the House of Representatives. She has constantly worked to make religious exceptions to government workers. So, they have an excuse to discriminate.

She has gone every chance on T.V. and radio, as an outspoken person for any religious regressive bill. She is the curse to most of the things that happen here, Scott. Another helper from this Black List of mine is a senator from the city of – here we have 78 cities and senators for each region, obviously – Carolina, which is a city here. Her name is Nayda Venegas Brown. Besides being a senator, she is also leading a church.

She leads a church. She is outspoken within her religion, as he has a right to do it. When we combine her with Maria Charbonier, and the leaders of the House and the Senate constantly grouping to group these legislations, it is a horrendously hard hill to be battling against.

Then we add to that, these horrendously regressive, conservative religious groups here on the island. One of them is called Puerto Rico for Family, or Puerto Rico por la Familia. It is a very conservative group led by people like Dr. César A. Vázquez Muñiz and another pastor from the south of Puerto Rico called Pastor Venida. I call him “The Minion.”

They are the main religious voices who are not Catholic in most of the legislations, where they work to ban abortion. They want these exceptions for religious workers in government. So, they are able to discriminate to their citizens.

Practically, they represent everything, which I don’t. Luckily or unluckily, I have never had the chance to meet Dr. Vasquez or Pastor Venida in person. But we have more than interacted online or on radio. Eva is constantly having to retract what they say online and on the radio.

It is horrendous. Just today, after the governor decided not to push or give his approval to a bill that happening, which is the one that I refer to in regards to religious exceptions to the Religious Restoration Act in Puerto Rico.

Even though, the original bill was submitted in the house and then he decided to veto it. He would not approve of it. He then decided to submit his own version, where he was trying to get some consensus between the religious community and the LGBT community.

What our stance is, there is no need to get consensus when the purpose of the legislation is to discrimination; there is no consensus on discrimination. The only consensus we can get is no discrimination against anybody.

This bill that we have been talking about. The governor, just yesterday, decided to withdraw his own bill. So, it is hilarious. You see a government that is constantly saying that it is pro-LGBT rights and pro-non-discrimination, but then decides to promote its own legislation in these regards.

It is an obvious political play. My speculation is the governor may not be against LGBT rights. He is pretty young, actually. My interpretation of what tends to happen is most of these politicians know that their constituency approved of these legislations.

But they want to secure the voters who are very fundamentalist and religious. So, they, at least, try to push for these bills. Even though, they might not be sure if they can pass them or not. They gave us quite a scare because, sometimes, they get very close.

Maybe, my interpretation: they try to play this charade to get the impression to make their fundamentalist and religious voters think that they are, actually, doing something for them. So, that’s, more or less, our main pushers of religion into politics.

We do have some other Catholic priests who do come out and push for these legislations, too. Surprisingly, the Catholic Church [Laughing] in Puerto Rico is less of a problem than these Protestant groups or churches, which is surprising me.

I don’t know why. Interesting fact, in the past, when Puerto Rico after the 1950s, it did have a political party for a few years, which was a Catholic political party by name and by policy, right? The leaders were Catholic. Interestingly enough, the governor at the time entered into these battles or political battles with the Catholic Church. He managed to win. I suspect this is why the Catholic Church tends to be more apolitical in Puerto Rico.

Rarely, you see them doing something very, very clearly political here in Puerto Rico. For example, something against abortion. They are more neutral than we would think, here.

Jacobsen: What seems like the largest wins in the history of Puerto Rico for secularism?

Rivera: [Laughing] that’s a good question. I am trying to think of any. Scott, I have to be very honest. I do not necessarily think that Puerto Rico has had very many. In my mind, at least, there have been some wins, in the sense of progressing in some sense.

I can mention them soon enough. Honestly, Puerto Rico has been lucky – or lucky and unlucky. I do not mean this as a political or personal stance on Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory. For better or worse, what I mean, Puerto Rico has been applied as a U.S. territory rather than a state.

So, we do not have the freedom to push these legislations like a state. We do not have the right of a state with a constitution, which would be normal states’ rights advocates would want. At most, the Supreme Court decides something, obviously, makes things way more easier to apply here because we do not have the states’ rights argument for what the Supreme Court of things that happen.

Automatically, our application of U.S. federal law is easier here. We avoid most of that states’ rights argument here, which a lot of states have in the U.S. What I would say, a lot of the changes have come because the Supreme Court has done that here.

You will never find a Puerto Rico Supreme Court case in which things have been done in a nuanced way for secular purposes. Courts here are scared. They tend to say, “Let’s leave this to the Supreme Court.”

They tend to be very scared to take action in that sense. We have had various ways in which our organization has gone to court. Our judges are afraid – our interpretation. You cannot argue a federal judge is afraid, right?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: Yes, they try. They are more hesitant to act. When they themselves admit that it is clear that this is a violation of church-state separation, I would not chuck off our Supreme Court or our courts to be the leaders of change.

Any change done locally for the Supreme Court has been when the court has done something. We have been successful with being more inclusive and for pushing legislation that has made, for example, giving marriage licenses to couples – same-sex couples.

There was some very progressive legislation that had been pushed here with a lot of success. Some applications, some local judges, have been progressive and open-minded enough to fight some federal cases for giving LGBT members of the community some more equality.

But purely, purely, purely church-state separation, we don’t have a lot of change. I will mention a specific case soon. For example, now, one of our worries is that schools are being privatized and being made religious or private religious schools during this government’s and administration’s funding periods.

They’ve been greatly funded. It is something U.S. organizations like Americans United have been fighting against. Puerto Rican public school system is something that I take very dearly leading a product published from the U.S. school system, which I am very proud of.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: It is Church School Legislation in which schools can be teamed up with churches. It has become very, very bad to fight these laws, which were made possible with schools being private while still funded by the state to promote religion and used for religious purposes.

There are vouchers for students. Vouchers, sometimes, are more complex as a debate. But we do have our stances against some parts of vouchers being used for religious education here. So, in that regard, we are not being very successful in fighting that.

People do not see the secondary consequences of giving the state funds being given for religious education. The expenses for such education being a violation of the Constitution. Our Constitution here is very progressive here.

It clearly states that we will not give any funds for private purposes. It is a complex situation here in most of these cases. But one of the prime cases was when, in 2016, the President of the House of Representatives introduced with Maria Charbonier and another representative a bill in which they would declare.

There was a declaration of 40 days of fasting and prayer on the island because they felt that they needed to give thanks to God through prayer and fasting, but throughout Puerto Rico. This was a declaration signed by the House of Representatives.

This was a clear, clear, violation of our Constitution. There is no doubt about that. No doubt. Eva sued the House of Representatives. It was a costly suit. When we sued the President of the House, it was a long proceeding.

At the end of the day, the judge decides that we had no standing because, apparently, there was no harm being done. The whole point of our argument was “no harm” was not an argument against our case because the harm being done couldn’t be done necessarily to people because the first stance that the harm was being done by violating the Constitution.

There was not a need to argue that there needed to be harm done to a specific person to be able to bring the suit to court. That ended up like that. They have not done such a declaration again. We are very sad that, even though successful in stopping a lot of it, the declaration still took effect in some of its parts.

If we actually had judges that weren’t clearly scared on a clear violation, we would have won the case. If there is something I can ask my U.S. based colleagues, it is that we, here, in Puerto Rico need more help from lawyers, from people who can fight this unbelievable brunt, which is most of the world.

We have a saying, “Half of the battle is just showing up and doing something.” Because most people don’t. The reality is that we need people who are willing to take these cases to court. We need more people who can help us with that.

One of my goals in life is that, hopefully, if I have the chance; I can study law. So, I can help out however I can in fighting these legislations in court. We really, really drastically need people who can do that.

Jacobsen: If you are looking at the latter half of 2019 and into 2020, how can people become politically involved in Puerto Rico as well as helping from the outside?

Rivera: [Laughing] I would hate to say something cliché. Obviously, we should always work from the place of everyone needing to donate for our members to keep our members, as these legal battles cost a lot.

Sometimes, these lawyers do this pro bono most of the time. But we need funding to fight these battles in court to do what we need to do. We always have activities around the island. We are always, at least in my campus, trying to recruit people, especially youth who will be the next voters.

We are trying to convince people because, obviously, in politics. This is a common thing. People vote for a few or a single policy. Then they don’t see these politicians simply lying to them in regard to the social and secular aspects.

We need people to be more conscious when they vote. We need someone who is honest and representing them, appropriately – and their beliefs on non-discrimination and treating everyone the same.

We try to convince people to come and participate in our activities. Normally, we have these conferences and invite people to donate, to give some time too. When we tell people, “Hey, this bill is being considered by the Senate. We need you to go with us at such and such a place and at such and such a time, because representatives and senators do not respond to only a couple of people showing up.”

We need to show up when the people show up at the committees. So, we can show that there is no consensus on these bills breaking church-state separation. We find that most of the citizenship does not necessarily know what to do.

That’s mostly what we need people to do. It is to show up when we say, ‘We need your help. We need you to speak out at these committee meetings, as to what our stances are.” With regards to that, as I asked, if there is anybody out there, we are [Laughing] campaigning on this now.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rivera: We need people just graduating from law school working pro bono, or if we can pay any way possible, then we need those people who are passionate about the separation of church and state to donate some of their time and some of their cash to combat some of the issues faced here in Puerto Rico.

That is what we really, really need right now. For citizenship, we need them to speak louder now. The donating and showing up when we need them during these hearings. We need people, like I said, who are starting law or are studying something, or have relevant experience (that you think might be helpful.

Our arms are always welcome to those who would help us. I know there are a lot of talented people out there. Whatever it is, they are just not getting here to us, for whatever reason. That is practically what I would suggest now.

I am more practical in that sense.

Jacobsen: Any recommended or speakers, or organizations, that are within the Puerto Rican diaspora?

Rivera: Diaspora, surprisingly, I, personally, don’t know of a lot of people. I, actually, talk about this with people recently. We do not have a lot of people who are necessarily distinguished Puerto Ricans who are publishing a lot of stuff like that.

It is commonplace in Latin American culture. For whatever reason, we are not very keen to publish or write things about these issues for some reason. We have very few publications on this in Puerto Rico.

We do not have a lot of publishers or those who are experts on this. Eva and I commonly find ourselves being the only people we can trust to speak on these issues. We have a lot of colleagues who do now and believe in church-state separation.

They may be activists from the LGBT and other communities. But I would hate to call ourselves “experts.” However, they are not necessarily experts in arguing from a separation of church and state stance, from arguing from secular humanist and a secular stance.

There aren’t a lot of people who I can point out and say, “Here in Puerto Rico, we have such and such a person.” I do have a good friend, who I mentioned to you, Scott. His name is Pedro. If you want, you can share his Facebook profile. I can share his blog with you later.

He runs a very, very nice blog that is against pseudoscience and, obviously, these religious issues. He is very well written and spoken in Spanish. He is extremely underrated and a [Laughing] very, very good writer.

He is a Professor of History at the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey. I would highly recommend people to read his blog. If anyone is interested in reading some of his blog publications, I would happily share them with you.

Right now, though, there aren’t really a lot of publications in Puerto Rico in that sense. I don’t know about a lot of people in the diaspora. I don’t know. I do not hear about a lot of people. There probably is, but these are not stories that we hear about here.

They may be active in their locale, but not here. So, I won’t comment on that, as I really don’t know. Sadly, I don’t know.

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

Rivera: Scott, it has been an extremely good opportunity. I thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with you. It was great talking to you also [Laughing]. If anything, I hope this might help people and, hopefully, young Puerto Ricans, specifically, who find themselves in whatever situation they are – to be more open, happy, and comfortable that they are atheists, or whatever label they wish to use in the secular spectrum.

What I want, I want people to be happy and for them to live in a society in which they then say, “I am not religious,” and this doesn’t get pointed at as immoral. I really want to shout out and give thanks, to you for this opportunity, and to all my national and international colleagues in the secular space.

I know they do a lot. I am here. Eva is always here. Puerto Rico is always here. Our secular community will always be here with open hands to help out and greet you all. If you have an opportunity to come down here, I invite you guys to just come and experience Puerto Rico for yourself.

Like I said, if you want, Scott, to take a vacation here, we are always keen to have you, to be host. Like I said, Scott, I hope – I really, really truly hope – to help how ever much time I have on this earth to fulfill what I see as one of my main duties, which is to make sure Puerto Rico becomes a truly secular society in which we can have everybody, religious or not, manifest their will as they see fit within the parameters of the law.

How many years I have to give to this movement, and to this passion that I have for secularism, I will truly and without a doubt dedicate to that.

So, I leave you with those final thoughts [Laughing].

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

Rivera: Thank you, Scott.

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

Canadian Atheist 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 AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Image Credit: Gerardo Miguel Rivera.

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