Our Secular Decade: Goals and Tactics of the Nontheist Movement

Secular Americans have been perceived unjustly as a marginal group, a cranky group and–sometimes with justification–an infighting group. If we want to return American life to its secular heritage, we must define ourselves as an organized, optimistic and pragmatic group that fully participates in American public life. At the Secular Coalition for America (SCA), of which the American Humanist Association is a member organization, we have a plan to do just that.

In this decade, we Secular Americans will claim a major national leadership role, becoming an undeniable political force that must be taken into account by elected officials and policymakers. We’re not there yet, but how will we know when we are? Here are some of our goals:

First, national reporters will instinctively seek quotes and analysis from SCA about public policies that privilege religion–just as now they seek quotes from the ACLU on civil liberties. Soon after, our stands on issues such as the protection of children from religiously-based abuse, military discrimination and emergency contraception will be automatically understood by the general media to be a call for civil rights and justice based on a compassionate adherence to a rational worldview. We’ll see thousands more people become active, dues-paying members of our ten coalition organizations, spurred by the enthusiasm and pride that comes from joining a great movement for justice. By 2019, we will help see to it that ten or more members of Congress will state publicly they are nontheist–just as Representative Pete Stark did in 2007 as the first-ever member of Congress to “come out” as not believing in higher power.

To realize these milestones, the movement must grow, and Secular Americans must be unified. Public policy is a pivotal unifying force that can diversify our constituency and increase our base of activists. Secular Americans internally debate many issues, but our diverse coalition unites when it comes to almost all matters of public policy. Lobbying and grassroots advocacy on public policy will drive the success and unity of our movement. It is our central strategy.

In addressing substantive issues that affect real people in their real lives, our public policy positions will help broaden the base of our member groups. We will champion causes and principles around which our community can rally and which will inspire new members to join our movement. In order to achieve our goals and meet our challenges, the Secular Coalition for America will speak out more compellingly to more people on more issues. We will present the secular movement more professionally and in more diverse venues, backed by a stronger grassroots infrastructure for which the Secular Coalition for America will be a prime catalyst.

We will earn media attention by passionately and knowledgably addressing religiously-based injustice against real people–injustices that connect on a gut level with an emotional impact. We want to connect secularism with the American people, appealing to the American sense of justice, freedom and fairness.

With our overarching strategy in mind, we have identified eight primary tactics that will lead us to our goals. We will:

1.      Expand our issue base;

2.      Increase our lobbying efforts in Washington;

3.      Produce communications materials that connect emotionally;

4.      Engage in more robust networking of secular and nontheist Americans;

5.      Undertake a “50-state strategy” in which we spark a grassroots effort leading to active volunteer advocacy networks in all fifty states before December 2019;

6.      Seek out the “apatheistic” and the functionally secular, expand outreach to women and younger people and bring our message to other potentially sympathetic groups, such as scientists, libertarians and LGBT nontheists (this effort will increase membership for our ten member organizations and strengthen our coalition);

7.      Hold a secular policy summit that is narrowly tailored to policy and leadership strategy; and

8.      Institute an internship program on Capitol Hill.

I presented this vision and plan to the Secular Coalition for America board on January 10, 2010.  The board took the bold step of telling me to move forward, and together we will do so.

This is our decade. 2010 is an exciting year, but 2019 will be even better because we will have achieved the secular goals that we have set for ourselves today. We believe strongly in a rational worldview, and our compassion and decency mandated by that worldview leaves no one out–even those with whom we disagree. This plan will lead Secular Americans to our rightful national leadership role.

Help right now by getting going to our website and signing up for our Action Alerts and telling five friends to do so as well: www.secular.org.