Like many secular advocates across the country, humanists in Minnesota are becoming increasingly concerned about the rise of Christian Nationalism and the impact of religious dogma on our legal system.
Many trends are worrisome: the January 6th insurrectionists who used Jesus-laden rhetoric to justify overturning an election; the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reject fifty years of precedent and end the constitutional right to abortion; high court rulings that erode the separation of religion and government, for example backing a football coach who led Christian prayers on the playing field; attacks across the country on transgender rights, often on “biblical” grounds.
My organization, HumanistsMN (a chapter of the American Humanist Association), gives top priority to advocating for secular government. In recent years, this has included organizing events at the State Capitol to observe the National Day of Reason in May. We gather legislators, secular groups, and advocacy organizations to promote public policy based on reason, science, evidence, and inclusive humanistic values, not religious preference.
After the last Day of Reason event, we decided to step it up a notch, working over the summer to help some of our state legislative allies set up a Secular Government Caucus dedicated to protecting the constitutional separation of religion and government. Thanks to the leadership of the co-chairs—state Senators John Marty and Jen McEwen and Representatives Mike Freiberg and Athena Hollins—the caucus has attracted more than twenty members.
“We are troubled by the efforts from some politicians to push a Christian Nationalist agenda, where right-wing Christian politicians are attempting to break down the wall of separation between church and state in order to push their beliefs on others,” it said in a press release.
In an effort to publicly support the Secular Government Caucus as it gets off the ground, the HumanistsMN Board agreed to pay for two billboards in the vicinity of the State Capitol in St. Paul starting in February. They both feature a photo of the Capitol, with the messages: “Protect Our Democracy. Keep Religion Out of Government” and “Reject Christian Nationalism. Keep Religion Out of Government.”
The Board agreed to cover the cost of the billboards for two months, but decided to try to raise money to pay for an additional month so that the messages could remain up during our Day of Reason event in May. We launched a Separation of Religion and Government Campaign in December—and our members came through, donating more than $2,000, enough to cover the third month.
Once the billboards go up, we will work to amplify their messages by arranging photos of our supporters in front of them that can be shared on social media.
In addition to billboards, we are considering concrete ways we can work with the Secular Government Caucus, for example by advocating for laws that protect the rights of nonbelievers.
And we will be on the lookout for efforts that attempt to bolster Christian Nationalism in Minnesota. The secular caucus can act as a counterweight to the Minnesota Legislative Prayer Caucus, which aims to “use prayer and use the legislative process to preserve our nation’s Judeo Christian heritage and religious liberties.”
The secular caucus noted in its press release that in recent years, the prayer caucus has proposed posting “In God We Trust” signs in public schools and threatened the funding of the Minnesota Historical Society after it invited a historian to speak about how the nation’s founders were not interested in creating a Christian government.
We are also working with other groups that are concerned about Christian Nationalism—for example, the new Rights, Faith, and Democracy MN Coalition. Led by OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ rights group, and other advocacy organizations, it wants to reclaim “religious freedom” as a progressive value rather than one that has been “co-opted by Far Right Christians to codify Christianity into public law.”
Let’s hope our joint efforts can accomplish that goal.