I don’t like gambling very much, but I am familiar with some of the terminology. “Hitting a trifecta” in horse racing for example means selecting the first three finishers of a race in the correct order. This week in Connecticut, we hit a trifecta of sorts for Darwin Day: a state-wide Darwin Day proclamation in addition to the House and Senate Darwin Day Resolutions.
Thanks to the hard work of our friends at the American Humanist Association (AHA), particularly legislative director Matthew Bulger, US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and US Representative Jim Himes (D-CT) sponsored Darwin Day Resolutions in their respective chambers of Congress this year. Rep. Himes has been carrying the Darwin Day mantle since former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) first sponsored a House Resolution in 2011, followed by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) in 2013 and 2014. Senator Blumenthal was the groundbreaker in the Senate in 2015 and has sponsored the resolution each year since.
The Connecticut proclamation was issued by Governor Dannel P. Malloy. This is a monumental achievement, as it I have requested one each year since 2015, and each year it was rejected; once for technical reasons, once because it was simply rejected the year before, and once because Darwin wasn’t a Connecticut resident. That last rejection prompted me to submit a Mark Twain proclamation request as a test, which was also rejected.
During this timeframe I also submitted proclamation requests for the National Day of Reason and Carl Sagan Day…and all were rejected. I’m sure I was making a name for myself in the governor’s proclamation group. I became so frustrated at one point that I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to get to the bottom of what was going on. I asked for the general proclamation criteria, a list of the reasons for rejection, and the numbers of rejected requests. Apparently, the governor’s office did not document the criteria and reasons for rejection, so I only received the numbers. The governor issues some 2,100 proclamations annually and only 10 percent are rejected. I began to wonder if someone in the governor’s proclamation group didn’t want our community recognized. Challenge accepted.
In 2016 members of the Secular Coalition for Connecticut began to plan a 2017 Lobby Day at the state capitol. I put together a “Secular Briefing” that we could give to elected officials. It essentially detailed our atheist/humanist community: our eight CT Coalition of Reason member organizations, CT demographics from Pew and Gallup, our legislative imperatives, and our requests, including the issue of our proclamations. It was during this planning phase that Sarah Levin from the Secular Coalition for America mentioned that she had a contact in the governor’s office who was a humanist and she would work with him to secure a meeting between the Governor Malloy and the members of our coalition.
Our first official Lobby Day in March, 2017 was a success and we met with Governor Malloy in May. He seemed surprised at the size and organization of our secular community. During our conversation, he mentioned that he’d enjoyed reading On the Origin of Species, that he was a fan of Darwin, and that he would issue our proclamation. We were elated!
Unfortunately, Governor Malloy has stated that he won’t run for re-election, so next year we’ll be starting from scratch. But we are already planning our 2019 Lobby Day and updating our Secular Briefing. And who knows? Maybe the next governor will be a humanist.
Patrick McCann has been a secular activist in Connecticut for seven years. He was formerly the president of the Hartford Area Humanists and co-chair of the Connecticut Coalition of Reason. He is currently the chair of the Secular Coalition for Connecticut and assistant state director for American Atheists.