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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Meet a member: From ‘Family Guy’ to passionate freethinker

Name: David Williamson.

Where I live: Orlando, Fla., since 2012.

Where and when I was born: Pensacola, Fla., in 1971.

Family: In 2013, I married my partner in activism, Jocelyn Williamson. Together we are raising her 15-year old son and I have a 26-year-old son in the Coast Guard.

Education: My childhood was spent in many places, but I finished high school in Spartanburg, S.C. I have an associate in science degree in golf course management from Florida Gateway College and a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Military service: I served four years in the Navy.

Occupation: After college, I worked as a golf course superintendent and about 10 years ago I moved into occupational safety.

Tell us about your FFRF chapter: Jocelyn and I founded the Central Florida Freethought Community in 2012 out of a passion for keeping religion out of government. We found the best way to do activism is to build a community of like-minded people and to form relationships with allied organizations and individuals who share our goals. Even if we don’t agree with everyone on everything, we can work together where our values align. Today we have a thriving organization that serves the Orlando area locally and the state of Florida in other ways.

We have nearly 1,000 Meetup members, 1,700 email subscribers, and 2,891 Facebook fans. There is a monthly speaker series, regular social events, occasional secular invocations, and the annual Freethought Cruise, where a national-level speaker is brought in for a weekend or a week-long getaway.

We have worked with FFRF on two lawsuits: literature distribution in Orange County Public Schools and secular invocations at Brevard County Commission meetings.

Group management has changed a lot since the days of the paper newsletter, so we find ourselves trying to grow and be dynamic while meeting the needs of those who look to us as a resource.

How I got where I am today: A 2008 episode of the “Family Guy” was how I first heard about Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It had a profound effect on me and helped me realize the value of clear thinking and the harm that religious dogma has visited upon civilization. That created a path for me into freethought where I found a desire to be part of fostering communities for people who want to be free from the question, “So, what church do you attend?”

Where I’m headed: My aim is to ensure Orlando always has an active freethought community. With a short supply of people interested in leadership, I and the rest of our board members need to work on identifying and empowering fans and followers who care about the same things we do, but don’t yet know how to get involved.

Person in history I admire and why: I really should spend more time studying history, but I am a huge fan of two types of activists. I admire regular people who have the courage to come from a minority position and speak out about what matters to them. I also have great respect for people who are in a majority and who take the time to understand the impacts their privilege has on others. I think we should all strive to be those types of people whenever we can.

A quotation I like: “Freedom begins with freethinkers.” — Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF co-founder.

These are a few of my favorite things: Modestly priced dark chocolate, heated discussion among family and friends, kicking pastors out of public schools, and Oxford commas.

These are not: People who care about what happens in our world but do not get involved to change it frustrate me as much as eating my vegetables.

My doubts about religion started: I have no memory of a god-belief — thank God.

Before I die: I hope to see a majority of Americans regain an understanding and appreciation of the secularism which pre-dated the rise of the “Religious Right.”

Ways I promote freethought: Along with community development and being open about my atheism, I am creating personal relationships with local clergy so we can resolve and prevent issues of religion in government together. An organization I have recently been asked to join is the Central Florida Commission on Religious Freedom (real religious freedom). We host an annual summit open to the public and smaller discussions during the year where religious leaders get together to discuss how religious freedom affects our various communities. Working with religious people to help us maintain “Jefferson’s wall” is an area of focus I hope to write and talk about more soon.

I wish you’d have asked me: To come work full-time at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF Member David Williamson (right), director and co-founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, and Danny de Armas, senior pastor at First Baptist Orlando, discussed the commonalities in their approach toward religion and government during a video segment on the Orlando Sentinel’s website in reaction to the annual National Religious Freedom Day on Jan. 16.
David Williamson