Day of Reason celebration in the Rotunda of the state Capitol has made
the first Thursday in May a landmark on our annual calendar. While on
the steps outside the National Day of Prayer rally proclaimed the
nation to be the exclusive property of fundamentalist evangelical
Christianity, we stood in opposition to that message, speaking for
government that favors no religion over any other, for government that
is strictly secular.
During a recent press conference in Turkey,
President Obama said that "we do not consider ourselves a Christian
nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a
nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." The
religious right political movement exists to oppose this vision of America,
and will never abate its efforts to have government declare a
privileged position for Christianity. So it comes as no surprise that
in May two bills were introduced in Congress for this express purpose.
H. Res. 397 is a resubmission of last year's bill that I wrote about in the February 2008 newsletter, to create ‘America's
Spiritual Heritage Week.' Last year H. Con. Res. 888 died in the House
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, as the committee spent
most of the year taking testimony from baseball players who had been
accused of taking steroids. This year it may receive more attention and
favor from lawmakers, although the bill contains many outright
misrepresentations of history.
H. Con. Res. 121 calls for President Obama to declare 2010 as "The
National Year of the Bible." Both bills have been referred to the House
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform,
The question is, what should we advocates for secular government do
about these bills? Last year my Representative, Betty McCollum, was on
the committee. I wrote to her in opposition to H. Con. Res. 888, and in
the February 2008 edition of this newsletter urged others to do so. I
asked Rep. McCollum to keep this bill in committee, but I received only
a noncommittal reply months later, stating that if the bill came to a
vote on the floor she would keep my comments in mind. Clearly my
carefully drafted letter had only been summarily skimmed by the staffer
who responded, and never reached Representative McCollum's attention.
This year there are no Minnesotans on the committee. The Secular
Coalition for America provides an editable form email that it will send
on request to your representative to oppose the ‘America's Spiritual
Heritage Week' bill
at this writing has posted no mention of the ‘The National Year of the
Bible' bill. If a campaign to personally lobby members of Congress is
to be effective, it must not only be large, it must be consistent and
The secular movement is unquestionably gaining strength and momentum.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has surpassed 13,000 members, the
Secular Coalition for America
has been formed to lobby Congress, and Americans United for Separation
of Church and State, American Atheists, and the Atheist Alliance
International have all been expanding their activities. A glance at
Atheist Weekly E-mail, which is distributed every Friday, shows that
our own activities have grown explosively, and that atheists are now a
firmly established community.
But we cannot match the numbers of the Christian opponents of the wall
of separation, so we cannot rest secure in the loyalty of any
legislator. Campaigns to inundate them with phone calls, letters and
emails seem futile, because staffers insulate them from constituent
correspondence, and because organizing atheists is as likely as herding
cats. But our greatest obstacle to influencing such legislation as H.
Con. Res. 121 and H. Res. 397 is that the Democratic Party considers us
a completely secure constituency.
In December of 2007, the House passed by 372 to 9 a resolution
acknowledging "the religious and historical importance of... the
Christian faith; and the role of Christians and Christianity in the
founding of the United States
and in the formation of the western civilization." Symbolic victories
like this are enormously important to conservative Christians, and
there are few Congressmen who are not eager to at least pay them lip
service. But if we are ever to become an effective political force,
even symbolic bills must be important to us, too. Atheists are often
smug in the superiority of their ideas, as if the battle of public and
political opinion were certain to fall in line with the conclusions of
science and reason. It is more likely that this culture war will only
be won when we want victory as much as the opponents of secularism.