Earlier this month at a mayoral forum, the current mayor of San Antonio, TX, Ivy Taylor, was asked by a representative of SA Christian Hope Resource Center what she saw as the deepest systemic causes of generational poverty. Her answer was disappointing. “Since you’re with the Christian Coalition, I’ll go ahead and put it out there that to me, it’s broken people, you know, people not being in a good relationship with their Creator and therefore, not being in a good relationship with their families and their communities and, you know, not being productive members of society, so, I mean, I think that’s the ultimate answer though that's not something I work on from my position as mayor of the community though, I try to be an example."

Despite the fact that she followed up with other more reasonable causes such as inequality in education and teen pregnancy, the fact that her initial response was to call people who believe differently than her “broken” is troubling, to say the least, and despite her insistence that it doesn’t play a role in her work, the fact that she announced it at a public forum says otherwise.

Atheists, humanists, and non-believers are not “broken people.” We simply believe something different, no more, no less, and we are every bit as capable of doing good things as anyone else.

“Some people have a misconception that good works have to be tied to religion. But that’s obviously false,” said Vicki Gettman, executive director of South Texas Atheists for Reason (STAR) one of Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB)’s Beyond Belief Network (BBN) teams.  “We’re hoping Mayor Taylor will come out and see the great work her atheist constituents are doing to contribute to the community.”

STAR is one of 125 groups around the US and in the Philippines, six of those located in Texas, that participate in BBN, the volunteer arm of FBB. Other FBB projects include a charitable giving program that has doled out more than $2 million in grants since 2010 to organizations working on poverty, health, education, human rights and the natural world. We also participate in international service through the Humanist Action: Ghana, and respond to disasters via our Humanist Disaster Recovery (HDR) program. In fact, next month, HDR Teams will deploy to Louisiana to help with the recovery efforts from severe flooding in 2016. In August of 2016, our HDR Drive program raised over $10,000 for All Hands Volunteers, an organization helping the communities in Louisiana to recover from that flooding.

Noelle George, our executive director, says: “At Foundation Beyond Belief, we support charitable efforts in the humanist community. We’ve seen thousands of examples of atheists and other nonbelievers who, without a belief in any creator, are tackling issues like systemic poverty and education. Moving forward, we hope Mayor Taylor will view FBB and our Texas groups as community partners rather than disparaging us.”

FBB’s BBN teams have donated 4,400 volunteer hours so far in 2017—and this doesn’t include the many atheists who volunteer for charity as individuals or secular societies that are not part of the Beyond Belief Network. Our teams in Texas have donated almost 2,500 volunteer hours in 2017 alone—and have thousands more hours planned. FBB’s own staff and volunteers volunteered almost 13,000 hours in 2016, a little over 19 hours per week per person.

From the beginning, we have worked with interfaith groups in programs like our Challenge the Gap grant category and also our work in Ghana, which has us working with both Christians as well as Muslims. Participating in these efforts does not mean that differences don't matter, only that our common ground is worth exploring despite our differences. We understand that differences don’t make us better than one another, but that together we are humanity at work.

You can read STAR’s letter in response to Mayor Taylor here. Thank you to Matthew Facciani for discussing this on his blog and to Hemant Mehta for discussing this on his blog.