“Can we count on your office to support the Do No Harm Act this Congress?”
That question (or a variation of it) was asked 50 times on Monday, as humanists from across the country met with their members of Congress during the American Humanist Association’s largest Lobby Day to date. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we held the event virtually, which made it even more accessible to our members who aren’t able to fly into Washington D.C. for a more traditional lobby day.
Our day by the numbers: 67 advocates met with 50 congressional offices from 21 states (including DC).
But these numbers, while impressive, don’t accurately reflect the impact we had. I was only able to join a few meetings throughout the day, but the ones I joined did not disappoint. I witnessed humanists testify passionately to the harm religious discrimination has on their transgender neighbors and friends. I watched humanists talk strategy with congressional staffers: what do we need to do to get this bill passed? What’s the next step? And how can we help in-district? I felt happily useless in these meetings.
The staff at AHA could not have managed this feat alone. Our partners at American Atheists, the Secular Coalition for America, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation graciously volunteered their energy, time, and expertise to help us out on Sunday and Monday.
But more importantly, we could not have done this without the humanist constituents, who hail from all over the country, and stepped up to meet with their members of Congress to advocate for humanist values. Many were old hats at this, but most were first-time advocates.
As your lobbyist in Washington, I’ve become skilled at building coalitions, digging into policy, and establishing relationships with policymakers. But, besides speaking with my own member of Congress (shout out to Congressional Freethought Member, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton), I will always fall at least a little short of effectively conveying how local constituents feel on an issue.
That’s why lobby days are so important, and it’s why they would be meaningless without our supporters. Humanist constituents are the best advocates when it comes to sharing how policy impacts the lives of the people our elected officials represent.
The bill we lobbied on, the Do No Harm Act, would certainly impact humanists’ lives for the better.
In the years since the enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), we have seen individuals and organizations weaponize the law for their benefit, using religion as a sword against others rather than a shield as intended. The law was used by the previous president to exempt federally funded foster care agencies from federal regulations barring discrimination, to allow for-profit companies exemptions from providing employees insurance coverage that includes contraception, to justify blatant pay discrimination against female employees, and so much more.
The solution is the Do No Harm Act. The bill, which already boasts 124 co-sponsors in the House, would finally ensure that federal nondiscrimination protections don’t play second fiddle to religion. This crucial bill would restore RFRA to its original intent and make it perfectly clear that no one in this country can use their religious beliefs to sidestep long-established civil rights protections in employment, healthcare, public services, and more.
To those who joined us: thank you so much for making the day such a success and—most importantly—for being amazing advocates for humanist values. And to our readers who couldn’t participate this year: you can still help us build on Monday’s momentum by reaching out to your congressional offices through our Action Headquarters and urge them to support the Do No Harm Act and invite them to join the Congressional Freethought Caucus.
In my original invitation to join us for lobby day, I emphasized that humanists have an important part to play in shaping policy, and now more than ever, our voices need to be heard. Well, I can confidently say, we made ourselves heard on Monday. Loud and clear.