In 1996, Tod Billings filed documents with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office incorporating a new non-profit organization: the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. He and LeeWood Thomas were its original incorporators. The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers initially existed for purposes of organizing secular activism – specifically promoting separation of church and state.
In 2005, Robert Higgins decided to start a secularist discussion group. He wrote the Freedom From Religion Foundation and asked for help finding other freethinkers in Arkansas. Dina Hartsell and Sybil Smith responded, and the three of them started the Central Arkansas Freethinkers as a Meetup group. They began meeting in Hot Springs. The group grew to about 100 members with the help of a website through MSN. Each month, at least 10-15 people participated in the library discussion group. Eventually, the meetings moved to Little Rock’s main library.
Robert Schafer started the Arkansas Atheists Meetup group in 2007. Arkansas Atheists met the first Tuesday of every month for beer and pizza at Vino’s in Little Rock. Members of the Central Arkansas Freethinkers learned of the Arkansas Atheists gathering and joined in.
As the Central Arkansas Freethinkers and Arkansas Atheists did more and more together, they decided to combine their websites and start an online discussion forum. As the groups became more active in 2008, they decided to create a display about the winter solstice for the state capitol grounds as a counterbalance to the Nativity Scene, which had been displayed alone there for decades. They needed a bank account, which meant incorporating.
Tod Billings and LeeWood Thomas were active with the Central Arkansas Freethinkers, and had kept their nonprofit Arkansas Society of Freethinkers alive. Because of the need for a bank account, the winter solstice display was created under the legal auspices of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers filed suit to enforce the First Amendment rights of non-Christians to the public forum on the state capitol grounds, and won.
Because it was already acting as an umbrella for Central Arkansas Freethinkers and Arkansas Atheists, in 2010 the various secularist groups decided to coalesce under the single name of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. Now the nonprofit acts as umbrella for other freethinker groups in Arkansas, and helps to start local secularist groups around the state.
First Tuesdays are still a social tradition for the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, although the location has changed. Robert Schafer and LeeWood Thomas still serve on the board. Online discussions are still lively and active. The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers still uses Meetup’s calendar as an easy way for secular Arkansans to find like-minded friends. And a group of freethinkers still meets in Hot Springs.