One on 1 with Mandisa Thomas
“We should respect each other in our beliefs and non-beliefs.”
Join our One on 1 conversation with Mandisa Thomas, as she discusses her perspective as a secular activist and atheist, and the importance of religious freedom.
Mandisa Thomas is the founder and president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
MANDISA THOMAS: If we all love and respect each other, then we should all respect each other in our beliefs and non-beliefs.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Hello everyone! Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the First Amendment Museum’s one on one series. Today I am joined by a very interesting guest Mandisa Thomas, Mandisa if you want to introduce yourself?
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Hello thank you for having me, Max. My name is Mandisa Thomas and I am the founder and president of the Black Non-Believers which is headquartered in the Atlanta Georgia area.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Why do you think the First Amendment is important? What are its goals and purpose?
MANDISA THOMAS: It should be the expression of our ideas and opinions, as well as uh- especially informed opinions, and for us to be able to discuss them, challenge each other, and perhaps even change our minds even when a different conclusion calls for it.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: So what inspired you to found Black Non-Believers?
MANDISA THOMAS: Black Non-Believers was founded because there was a lack of representation of black atheists, agnostics, humanists, uh those who are also identified as secular and free thinker in both black communities and in the overall non-religious community. Uh, the black community is still among the most- uh the highly religious in the United States, and so this organization was founded to provide support for those who needed it, for those who were surrounded by religious family members and friends and who could not have that freedom of expression. And so, there needed to be a space for folks to be able to have said expression without facing any sort of consequences. But where they can also be challenged as well and learn from fellow non-believers and like-minded individuals.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: So uh what does freedom of religion mean to you and what does it look like in the real world?
MANDISA THOMAS: It means to me, the ability for everyone to practice uh what they believe in the safety of their own homes. But it also means that they are- that people are not simply just forcing those beliefs onto other people. That it stays out of public policy, that it stays out of the government in a way that people can influence said beliefs especially if they impact the rights and abilities of others- and you absolutely sh- you should be respectful of the beliefs of others even if you don’t agree that we can see beyond those beliefs and still work together and live together and just coexist amongst each other.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Uh should secular humanists or atheists or- or anybody that might not identify with uh a religion or spirituality, should those individuals be worried about, nervous about, or even scared of religious people in the US today?
MANDISA THOMAS: Should we be? Ideally no. When we see our- our government officials and representatives, stating their belief in God- professing their belief in God so openly, that it’s- it’s just widely accepted or even perceived that everyone else is supposed to be. Yes we are worried about that, and we are concerned that our- our rights are being uh, are being trampled on, and that uh we are not again free to express that freedom from religion, and that uh again that we are not just respected as human beings because if we all love and respect each other than we should respect each other in our beliefs and non-beliefs.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: So, beyond your activism and work, how do you utilize the first amendment in your everyday life?
MANDISA THOMAS: So I utilize it often even in my own household. Um, I’m married with three children. In development and in raising my children I encourage them to be as objective and to speak up when they think there is something wrong. So, it really starts in the home, and it starts with- you know- how we do so in our everyday and personal lives. How we respect others, how we respect our loved ones uh and in addition to how we advocate in the public sector-
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: -Let me say thank you again for joining us, uh we appreciate it.
MANDISA THOMAS: Thank you!