This is part of theHumanist.com’s monthly 2021 series highlighting openly nonreligious elected officials across the nation. There are now more than 80 elected officials, at all levels of government, who identify with the atheist and humanist community.
Prior to the 2016 election there were only 5 public nontheist state legislators. Because of our efforts we have over 60 today—a 12-fold increase!
It is critical that our community connect, engage with the elected officials who represent our community and our values—you can see a list of these elected officials here.
State Representative Sherry Dutzy
Representing Hillsborough, New Hampshire’s 30th District
“I strongly believe in the separation between church and state and that I needed to demonstrate my commitment to this principle. Since I wouldn’t go to church to hear a political speech, why was I accepting the recital of a prayer at a governmental meeting?”
Representative Sherry Dutzy was first elected to office in 2018 and is now serving her second term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She was born in Detroit, where she started working at the age of 10 in her parent’s dry-cleaning business. After graduating summa cum laude from California State University–Long Beach with a degree in Sociology and Social Welfare, she moved to Nashua, NH where she has lived ever since.
Dutzy’s first career was as a social worker. Upon receiving her Master’s in Social Work from Boston University, she worked as a medical and psychiatric social worker where she was often frustrated by how the ineffectiveness of public policy impacted her clients. She left social work in 1980 to pursue an MBA at Northeastern University and worked in technical sales and business development until semi-retirement. Her desire to give back to her community led her to volunteer and run for office.
During her first term in office, Dutzy served on the Environment & Agriculture Committee with a focus on assisting farmers, protecting the environment, and providing for animal welfare. An avid gardener and passionate advocate for the environment, she currently serves as the Chair of the Nashua Conservation Commission.
Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?
State Representative Sherry Dutzy: I’ve always enjoyed reading biographies and historical accounts. As a student of the French language, I’ve read a lot of personal accounts about the French Resistance movement during World War II and acts of heroism. I often wondered if I could rise to the occasion if the time came.
When Trump was elected President and I recovered from the depression brought on by his electoral win, I began to get educated on what I could do to counter the authoritarian trends I was seeing. I joined the League of Women Voters and learned what was going on politically in New Hampshire. In many ways it was not unlike what was happening on the federal level.
A friend and I decided to run for the position of Selectman which is basically a poll worker. No one campaigns for these positions because usually people get elected unopposed. We actually had a race in our Ward and we campaigned to educate people about the position. Off-year elections are great in that people are not overwhelmed by canvassers and they will actually talk to you. This low-level elected position was a good way for me to put myself out there and see if I was electable.
The following year the Democrats couldn’t find a third candidate to run in my Ward for the State House. I knew that the seat would automatically go to the opposition so I jumped in at the last minute. Having campaigned once helped and being part of a team was great. The three Democrats ran as a team and we were all elected. So, you could say that Trump was my call to duty. I attended the Women’s March in January 2017 and never looked back.
Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?
Dutzy: Supporting public education, conservation and the environment, and decreasing the income-inequality gap are three of my priorities. As a secular/humanist I feel strongly about coexisting with all living forms. I do not see a hierarchy in the world as many religious people do, who are taught to believe in an all-knowing God and that man is superior to all other living beings. Coexisting means helping each other and sharing our bounty. I detest the greed I see in those who accumulate wealth and establish foundations as a tax avoidance vehicle so they and generations of their family can live comfortably without contributing to society. When our need for shelter, food, security, etc. are met I believe we have an obligation to give back and not continue to accumulate for the sake of accumulation. Really, who needs five houses?
Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?
Dutzy: Frankly, I was surprised at the number of times I was asked to listen to a prayer while attending a public, governmental function. In my first term as a State Legislator, I dutifully stood up during the benediction. After careful consideration, I decided that I would no longer participate in what, for me, was a sham function. I strongly believe in the separation between church and state and that I needed to demonstrate my commitment to this principle. Since I wouldn’t go to church to hear a political speech, why was I accepting the recital of a prayer at a governmental meeting?
In my second term I gained the courage to sit peacefully during the benediction. As it turns out, the new Speaker of the House brought in his minister who is more conservative than acting chaplains in the past. There was pushback by many in the chamber. Now, several choose to wait in the wings until the ceremonial part of our meeting has concluded.
Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?
Dutzy: I really do not see it as an issue. It rarely comes up. If someone automatically thinks I am religious I correct them, but reasonable people are very accepting of differences. I respect that a religious belief gives many a sense of comfort. Life can be tough and comfort, values come in many forms. For some it is yoga or meditation. For those who want to demonize me because I am a non-believer, their extreme views would never have allowed for a relationship to begin with. My goal is to demonstrate through my actions that a non-believer does have faith and convictions about many things. He/she/they just do not worship a deity, submit to religious dogma, or have the need to belong to a religious organization.