In May of this year I attended an event in Congress supporting the introduction of the Freedom of Religion Act of 2016. After lobbying by the American Humanist Association, the act was altered to specifically state that “an alien may not be denied admission to the United States because of the alien’s religion or lack of religious beliefs.”(emphasis mine.) At the event was Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), who co-sponsored the resolution and has been a longtime supporter of religious freedom for all.
Rep. Honda came up to me after the event, and while I figured he wanted to talk about a new legislative initiative that he was seeking support for, instead the Congressman just came over to see how I was doing. While Honda is known as a policy wonk, focused on improving the lives of not only his own constituents but of the American people in general, he is also one of the most human and genuine politicians I’ve ever met.
We caught up on how his family was doing, how I was doing, and how the nontheistic community in general felt about the direction of politics. The conversation wasn’t that of a lobbyist and politician, but of two human beings wanting to know more about each other. This wasn’t just a one-time conversation either, as Honda occasionally called me and other AHA staff to see how we were doing and even to express his concerns about the plight of atheists and other nontheists who were being persecuted around the world for their lack of religious beliefs.
Concern for nontheists and religious minorities is a major part of Honda’s character, as is his desire to protect the separation of church and state. After being endorsed by the Freethought Equality Fund, he stated,
I am proud to stand strong for the separation of church and state and to defend the civil liberties of all Americans, regardless of their religious views or lack thereof. I know what it’s like to have my constitutional rights violated because of my identity, and as long as I am in Congress I will work to make sure this doesn’t happen to others.
Honda also sponsored the National Day of Reason resolution in Congress, an alternative to the congressionally mandated and likely unconstitutional National Day of Prayer, stating upon introduction of the resolution that “the application of reason has proven to improve the conditions in which people live, offer hope for human survival on Earth, and cultivated intelligent, moral, and ethical behaviors and interactions among people.”
Unfortunately, Rep. Honda lost his re-election bid last night, and will not be serving in the next Congress. This is a huge loss not only for the nontheistic and progressive community, but for America as well. Mike Honda wasn’t just a good member of Congress; he was and is a good human being who genuinely cares about everyone he meets and wants to help create a society in which all can find happiness. His constant outreach to the nontheistic community, not just on legislation but on a personal level, did much to help us feel part of a political system that frequently excludes those who don’t believe in a god or ascribe to a religion. Losing a person of his caliber and personal integrity from Congress is not only a blow to the progressive legislative agenda, but to the idea that politics need not be malicious and impersonal.