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California Promise Keepers Demonstration
October 10, 2020

by Dave Kong
California State Director, American Atheists

On October 10, twenty enthusiastic American Atheists and others from throughout California converged on Sacramento’s Arco Arena to protest the agenda of the Promise Keepers, a religious cult with political aspirations. Holding the line for state/church separation, Atheists greeted arriving Promise Keepers with slogans such as “keep America secular and free,” “no medieval government,” and “PKs: keep your promise to yourself!”

The fun began Friday, with some protesters meeting to spend the night at the Canterbury Inn. An impromptu party at the hot tub was formed, until motel security received complaints about the revelry. The next morning, all protesters met at a nearby Starbuck’s at 7:00 a.m., where they were shuttled to the Arco Arena site.

... they would sometimes assume they were being welcomed. They would smile and wave, until they could actually read the signs - then their faces would fall.
There was a noticeable police presence at the arena. While they had been informed in advance about the demonstration, it was clear that they did not appreciate our presence. They immediately told protesters to stay off the street, and under no circumstances could anyone park in the arena area. Throughout the protest, the police kept a watchful eye. At one point, Atheist Mike Crutchfield had crossed the invisible line between public and private sidewalk, and was given a stern warning. Later, Ray Romano, having stopped momentarily in his vehicle to speak to fellow protesters, was pulled over and warned not to block traffic, even though there were no other cars in the area.

Protesters fanned out and covered both main entrances as well as the intersection of the nearest thoroughfare in order to catch the attention of everyone driving by. There were a number of positive responses from the general public, but the most interesting reactions came from the Promise Keepers. Seeing the signs in the distance, they would sometimes assume they were being welcomed. They would smile and wave, until they could actually read the signs - then their faces would fall.

As usual, some PKs engaged the protesters in conversation. One female Atheist was even allowed into the arena, and was given free literature and a T-shirt. The younger PKs were especially curious. Upon hearing that American Atheists objected to the PK’s political goals, one young man claimed that they were not political. His companion immediately corrected him - “yes, they are.”

At 11:30, the entire group met at the main entrance to pose for group photos. A nearby Promise Keeper rudely attempted to get into the pictures, but when there were strenuous objections, he stepped aside.

Afterwards, participants met at the nearby Roundtable Pizza on Truxel Road, where the staff treated the group with exceptional courtesy and hospitality. Stories were shared, contacts were made, and all jubilantly toasted the recent defeat of California’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. Donations were given to support American Atheists’ lawsuit against San Francisco’s sale of the Mt. Davidson cross. Ray Romano delighted the group with an Al Pacino monologue from “The Devil’s Advocate,” and high school student Fred Peters told the group about his brave refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, in spite of a physical threat from a teacher.

All agreed that the event was a success and lots of fun. More demonstrations are being considered, including against the City of San Jose’s display of a nativity scene in a public plaza in December, and the City of Redding’s annual observance of the National Day of Prayer next May.

American Atheists thanks everyone who demonstrated, especially those who assisted in the event. Thank you to members Ray Romano, Jim Heldberg, Ed Coleman and Kay Dickey for providing transportation. Thanks to Sacramento Atheist Dave Flanders, who acted as the local contact. American Atheists would also like to thank Shasta Atheists and Freethinkers for their large contingent, as well as Atheists of the San Francisco Region and Atheists United, Los Angeles for sending official representatives. We look forward to cooperating with these groups on more events and issues in the future.

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