This past April the Secular Coalition for America put on a great Lobby Day and Secular Summit, at which nonreligious Americans from across the country came to DC to find out more about the issues confronting the nonreligious community while getting the opportunity to express their beliefs directly to those in Congress.
The Secular Coalition for America is advocacy coalition of several freethought organizations, including the American Humanist Association, whose purpose it is to “amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States” through lobbying. The SCA also works with the legislative staff at the AHA and other nonreligious organizations to lobby Congress on bills that deal with church-state separation and other threats to secularism.
For the secular summit, which took place from April 24-25, the SCA hosted several panels on issues that are important to the nonreligious community in addition to the keynote speeches that were made by Representative Jerrold Nadler and Senator Tom Harkin. The panels were as diverse as they were interesting, with titles like “Science Education Under Assault: Stopping Anti-Science Legislation in its Tracks,” “Religious Liberty Versus Health And Safety,” “Politics & Religion: How Tax Policy Privileges Religion and How to Level the Playing Field” and “Legal Discrimination in the Name of the Lord.” While it would have been great to also have a Republican public official giving a keynote address to show the bipartisan nature of the nonreligious community, the sad reality of the political climate in DC makes it hard for conservative politicians to openly support or empathize with nontheist Americans.
I had the pleasure of personally participating in the Lobby Day event which was held on Friday April 26th. The day started off with an intensive lobbying training for the attendees who were going to lobby their home-state or chosen representative, and participants spent the rest of the day in meetings with representatives and staff to discuss concerns from the secular community.
Meetings were scheduled with many different government officials from both political parties, and as I helped lead the participants to the Hill and their meetings I noticed just how excited and confident they were. After years of being excluded from the public policy process, I found it inspiring to see so many nonreligious Americans standing up for church state separation in the face of a political system that is dominated by the Religious Right and their allies. When I sat in on an afternoon meeting in Rep. Capuano’s office with two other Lobby Day participants, I expected to lead the meeting as I already knew the staffer and I had a feeling that the newly minted lobbyists might need a guiding hand. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as they were both very well prepared and fearless in their advocacy on behalf of secularism and nonreligious Americans.
Going forward, I expect to see even more humanists, atheists, and freethinkers of all sorts at these types of events in the future. Nonreligious Americans are tired of being ignored, and they showed me and many on Capitol Hill just how ready they are to stand up for the values that are important to them.