This is part of TheHumanist.com’s monthly 2021 series highlighting openly nonreligious elected officials across the nation. Because of the work of the Center for Freethought Equality, the political and advocacy arm of the American Humanist Association, there are now more than 80 elected officials at the local, state, and federal level who identify with the atheist and humanist community. Join the Center for Freethought Equality to help politically empower the atheist and humanist community—membership is FREE!
The Center for Freethought Equality’s advances have been groundbreaking. Prior to the 2016 election there were only 5 state legislators and no members of Congress who publicly identified with our community. Because of its efforts we have 60 state legislators today—a 12-fold increase – and a member of Congress, Jared Huffman (CA-2), who publicly identify with our community! It is critical that our community connect and engage with the elected officials who represent our community and our values—you can see a list of these elected officials here.
School Board Member Leonard Presberg
Representing Fayette County School Board
“My nonreligious views, my belief in the goodness of humans, and especially my belief in the potential of our students, form the basis for my advocacy and leadership.”
A Fayette County, Georgia resident since 1997, Leonard Presberg has represented Post 4 (formerly 5) on the Fayette County School Board since he was appointed in December 2011. He was reelected to a four-year term twice, in 2014 and 2018 respectively. As a former Montessori pre-school teacher and Headmaster of a Place-Based Montessori School, Presberg brings deep educational experience to the office. An openly atheist elected official himself, he is the President and Founder of the Association of Secular Elected Officials, an organization that helps elected officials be authentic about their beliefs and ethics, and provides a forum for elected officials to connect with each other for education, support and fellowship.
In addition to his public service, Presberg is a community activist, local performer, former preschool teacher, attorney, and local businessman. He currently serves as the CFO for Women’s Medical Center, which has provided obstetrics and gynecology services to generations of women in Fayette County for over 30 years. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Fayette Votes, which promotes voter registration, and as the Chief Bard of the Red Clay Festival, a local storytelling festival. He formerly served as the Chair of the Fayette County Democratic Committee, Treasurer for AVPRIDE, and on the Fayette County Advisory Board for the United Way.
Always deeply involved in the community, Presberg volunteers as a coach and in other roles in various local youth sports leagues. He graduated with a BA from Oberlin College and a JD, magna cum laude, from University of Richmond.
Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?
Leonard Presberg: I was initially appointed before subsequently running for reelection twice. My motivation was my belief that how we treat and educate our children is the most important thing we do as a society. We tend to think of school board as a “lower office”—not as important as a mayor or state legislator, for example—but school systems are often the largest employer, running the largest commercial food service, the largest transportation network and collecting the most tax dollars in a community. School systems are also a major factor determining where employers and parents choose to locate. Not only is it the most important elected position, but in my community, where elections are partisan, there hadn’t been a Democrat serving on our school board in decades and there were no parents of current students on the board either. I knew that I had to become a voice for all of the students that didn’t fit our community stereotype of wealthy and college-bound.
Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?
Presberg: My priority is being a voice for the disadvantaged student, the LGBTQ+ student, the Black and brown student, the student who doesn’t speak English at home, and the non-Christian and non-religious student. Before I served on the school board, my community was not used to elected officials being vocal about the needs of these students.
My other priority is making sure we base our decision making on facts and data rather than religious beliefs. There are those in my community who advocate for making decisions based on their religion, whether it is discriminating against our transgender students or having teachers and coaches lead students in prayer. Lately, we’ve even had people speak out against masks and vaccines based on their religious beliefs.
My nonreligious views, my belief in the goodness of humans, and especially my belief in the potential of our students, form the basis for my advocacy and leadership.
Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?
Presberg: It is important for me to be open about my nonreligious identity because I can serve as a role model for students in our district. Living in a community where Christians have dominated public life, it is important to recognize the nonreligious publicly. For such a long time, Christian prayers were a constant part of public life, from before government meetings to gatherings of groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and other community groups. So it wasn’t just the nonreligious who felt ostracized, it was our Jewish and Muslim and other non-Christian citizens as well.
Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?
Presberg: For the most part, voters have appreciated my honesty and bravery in challenging our community norms—which is not to say there hasn’t been controversy. Immediately after I took office, a local news source tried their best to generate community outrage over my beliefs, calling me unfit to serve. At my second school board meeting, a future county commissioner used his three minutes of public comment to offer outrage and prayer. At a recent meeting where a local church had recruited people to attend a meeting over a made-up sex education issue, several speakers spoke of the evils of humanism and anyone who doesn’t believe in the “Judeo-Christian worldview.” But for all those attacks, I still receive more feedback thanking me for being that different voice and standing up for students who didn’t have someone standing up for them before.
To learn more about the Association of Secular Elected Officials and Leonard Presberg:
To learn more about the Fayette County Board of Education and Leonard Presberg: