Beginning in June, the Washington-based SCA will install directors in 18 states including Hawaii, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Alabama. State directors will meet with local politicians and train and mobilize local nontheists to lobby on behalf of secular issues and causes.
Why? Activists say the most important policies that affect nonbelievers don’t come from Washington.
“The majority of erosion to church-state separation is at the local level,” said Serah Blain, the SCA’s first state director, appointed in Arizona in January. “It’s in city councils and school boards and statehouses. And that’s where these things really affect people’s lives, with laws on bullying and abortion and access to health care. And they are passing without much opposition because it isn’t seen as glamorous to lobby locally.”
The announcement comes on the heels of SCA’s appointment of Edwina Rogers, a veteran Republic lobbyist, as its new executive director, a move the group has spun as a means to greater access on Capitol Hill. It is also the latest indication that nontheists — atheists, humanists, skeptics and others who hold no supernatural beliefs — are working to become a political force in their own right.
Amanda Knief, who recently joined American Atheists after working as the SCA’s government relations manager, said nontheists must “show elected officials that we are a political movement that needs to be recognized. That kind of recognition has been lacking because it is not politically savvy. So we need to show them that we are there and that we count.”
2012 already represents a high-water mark for political organization and activism among nontheists:
—The Reason Rally drew more than 10,000 people to Washington in March where speakers urged them to contact local and national representatives and ask them to support church-state separation, science education, marriage equality for gays and lesbians, and ending government support of faith-based organizations, among other causes.
— The SCA’s 2012 Lobby Day, an event that included training in lobbying techniques and meetings with congressional staff, attracted 280 people from almost all 50 states — up from 80 at the same event a year ago.
— Cecil Bothwell, a Democratic candidate for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District is running as an atheist. If he wins, he will join Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., now the only openly atheist member of Congress.
— Enlighten the Vote, a nonprofit that supports atheist candidates and issues, is actively seeking atheists to run for public office and trains atheists to lobby their politicians.