News and Notes

By George Kane

george head smallThe Secular Coalition for America ignited a major controversy when it announced that it had hired Edwina Rogers as its new Executive Director. Without question, Rogers brings to the job an impressive inside-the-beltway résumé; the problem is that her work has been entirely for the Republican Party. That party is firmly established in the minds of most organized atheists as the wholly-owned property of the religious right and the champion of undoing the separation of church and state. Rogers was an economic advisor for both Presidents Bush, and General Counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.   

So, is Rogers switching sides? Not at all, she told Hermant Mehta:  

I think it’s a misconception that the majority of Republicans are lined up against the secular movement. As someone who has been an insider within the Republican Party, I’m certain it’s not the consensus of the majority of Republicans to have an [overt] influence of religion on our laws. Having said that, no one agrees with everyone they work with on every single issue. In these roles I never worked on anything having to do with issues of religion — I worked primarily on economic issues.   

This response aroused the incredulous contempt of blogger P.Z. Myers. If she is right that most Republicans oppose the influence of religion on our laws, why do we need the Secular Coalition for America?

The selection of Rogers is all the more puzzling, since the only members of Congress who can be counted upon to support legislation that shores up Jefferson’s Wall are Democrats. Presumably Rogers has many Republican contacts, and the selection committee hopes that she will be able to reach across party lines to form interparty alliances. In the polarized culture of today’s Congress, however, what is the likelihood of that? Republicans never vote in support for separation of church and state because there is no constituency for it in their party. Democrats are rarely willing to stand with us, but are instead eager to show their support for religion to appeal to the “religious middle-ground.” That is why bills like last year’s H. Con. Res. 13, reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto, passed the House by 396 – 9 with two congressmen voting ‘present.’ The only time we can expect Democrats to support us is when we are arguing in support of a key Democratic constituency – for equal rights for gays, or women, for example. We can piggy-back a ride on the support of Democrats for their issues. They are willing to provide no more support for separation of church and state than lip service. Legislators of both parties are driven by the political realities of their next election.

One could look at these same facts and conclude that the job of a lobbyist for separation of church and state is hopeless no matter who has the job. Our lobbyists can be successful only when atheists have grown and matured as a political movement, to the point that we are recognized as a voting bloc that can decide — or at least influence — elections. Creating that growth is a job for organizations that can build the atheist community. Organizations such as Minnesota Atheists.

Mitt Romney made a revealing remark at a campaign stop in early May. When a questioner accused President Obama of undermining the constitution, Romney responded “I happen to believe that the constitution is not only brilliant but inspired. I believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence.” By ‘inspired,’ he could only mean ‘divinely inspired.’ That is a distinctive Mormon doctrine, so it comes as a surprise: Romney has hitherto been careful to avoid stating any religious convictions that are not held in common with Christians. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101:77 Section 101, God said to Joseph Smith:

According to the laws and a constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles [.]

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