Hemant Presented With Freethought Backbone Award July 29, 2011

Hemant Presented With Freethought Backbone Award

by Jesse Galef –

I have an announcement about Hemant. Heads up: I’m going to gush a bit.

Today marks the start of the Secular Student Alliance’s Annual Conference, which promises to be an exciting weekend full of inspiration, camaraderie, and – let’s face it – a whole lot of fun. We (full disclosure: yes, we – I work for the SSA) have a great line-up speakers including Dan Barker, PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Dave Silverman, Jamila Bey, and on and on… and Hemant!

But Hemant will be doing more than giving a talk on “The Need for Critical Thinking in Public Schools”. This year we’re also presenting Hemant with the 2011 Freethought Backbone Award.

Every year our national conference, the Secular Student Alliance presents the Freethought Backbone Award to an individual within the freethought movement who is a guide and inspiration for secular students and student groups – someone who has demonstrated a commitment to the secular values of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human-based ethics.

In the past this award has been presented to such notable figures as Ellery Schempp, plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Abington vs. Schempp; Herb Silverman, president and founder of the Secular Coalition for America; Dan Barker, Co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation; and Lori Lipman Brown, former Director of the Secular Coalition for America.

It’s rare for the honor to go to someone so young – Hemant is only 28 – but his impact on the secular student movement has been incredible. From an organizational standpoint, he’s been involved for years. In college, Hemant helped establish UIC’s first secular student group, he served as CFI’s student president, and was on the Secular Student Alliance’s Board of Directors (acting as Chair of the Board for 5 years) for so long he got term-limited off.

But it’s what he’s has done outside the organizations that really sets him apart. Hemant has been an excellent role model for the kind of positive engagement I wish we saw more often. His book, “I Sold My Soul on Ebay” is a story of his experience visiting churches to share his outsider perspective with them. He’s continued engaging with “the other side”, speaking at churches and religious events to present the friendly face of a nontheist. I remember his talk for the 2010 SSA Conference, where he told the room full of student leaders how productive it had been to reach out to Laurie Higgins of the anti-gay Illinois Family Institute to get coffee with her. I can’t think of a better “guide and inspiration” for secular student leaders to follow.

It’s because Hemant lives humanist values of critical thinking, respect and compassion. Though he’s no longer on the SSA Board of Directors, he’s now Board President of the Foundation Beyond Belief – an excellent nonprofit devoted to creating a culture of nontheistic involvement in charitable efforts. Besides that, he uses his online reach to help others. When Damon Fowler was being thrown out of his home for being a nontheist, Hemant rallied the secular community to raise over $30,000 toward Damon’s college fund. Since we atheists don’t have as many in-person gatherings, it’s remarkable to see the internet being used so effectively to provide that support.

Not only is the Friendly Atheist blog bringing the secular community together around humanist ideals, it’s bringing more people into that community. There’s no telling how much of an impact this blog has had on people questioning their faith, curious about atheists, or long-time doubters looking for others who think like them. For years, the Friendly Atheist community has been a place for all of them.

Sorry to gush, but I really am proud. I’m proud to be a part of Hemant’s Friendly Atheist blog, proud to consider Hemant a friend, and proud to see him honored with this award. Congratulations Hemant Mehta on being presented the Secular Student Alliance’s Freethought Backbone Award of 2011.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Congratulations Hemant. I knew there was a reason this was one of my favorite blogs.

  • This is a well-deserved award, and I’m sure that much more recognition will come. You are an inspiration to me, and to many people.  I admire your courage, your patience, and your energy.

  • Anonymous

    Congrats, Hemant!  I think they have chosen a very worthy recipient for the award.  Reading your blog brought me out to comment and I didn’t think that would happen again for a long time.  Have a great time at the conference!

  • Congrats!! This blog was the first atheist blog I ever read and continues to be my favorite. I credit Friendly Atheist for showing me there is no fear in “coming out” as an atheist  – and it has been enlightening and liberating. Big thank you and CONGRATS to Hemant – an incredible human.

  • Achess

    Looking good brah!

  • Tim D.


  • Anonymous

    Congrats, Hemant you certainly deserve it! I can’t think of a better spokesperson for many of us!

  • Anonymous

    Congrats, Hemant you certainly deserve it! I can’t think of a better spokesperson for many of us!

  • Congratulations, Hemant!

    *happy dance*

  • Congratulations, Hemant!  You’ve earned it.

  • Vanessa

    Congrats, Hemant! Also, that’s a great picture of you 🙂

  • Ronlawhouston

    He deserves it.  He’s a grass roots organizer who also works with young people.  Go Hemant –  you beat the hell out of PZ Meyers!!

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Happy Happy, Joy Joy….

    Congrats, Hemant!!!

  • Your gushing is certainly in order, Jesse.  Hemant fully deserves this award.   I hope there are many more.

  • Ron

    I was there at the convention when Hemant received the award.  Everyone was really excited about him receiving the it.  He gave a great acceptance speech.

    The other speakers tonight, Dave Silverman, Jamila Bey, and Annie Callicotte were very good too.I can’t wait for the convention to continue tomorrow.

  • Annie

    Congrats Hemant!  Well deserved!  You have encouraged me to reach out and speak out in the name of atheism, and for that, I am grateful.

  • Hitch

    Well deserved. My the pesto be with you.

  • Greg

    Congratulations, Hemant! Great to hear. There’s only two blogs I ever post at, and this (obviously) is one of them. A large reason of that is the tone of this site, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    Actually, I’m not someone who much goes in for socialising or organisations, or the like full stop, so you have to be doing an amazing job with it! 🙂

  • You definitely deserve the award.  This blog played a significant role in my being open about my humanism and atheism.  Congrats!

  • Congratulations, Hemant.   Couldn’t happen to a more deserving Smiling Mexigay. 😉

  • I like Hemant because he shares my values (I’m a LOT older than he is, so I had them first, LOL!!). He is never hostile to the good religious people of the world, and intelligently takes to task the bad religious people without hysteria or polemics. He clearly believes in a world that is welcoming and caring for ALL people, and that means a lot to me. I’m SO glad you picked him for this award! 🙂

  • Tracyann88

    Congratulations, Hemant!

  • Anonymous


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