Mississippi Atheists to Organize State Lobbying Group This Month

Washington, D.C. - The Secular Coalition for America is excited to announce the initial organizing efforts for a chapter in Mississippi this month. The state chapter will lobby state lawmakers in favor of a strong separation of religion and government.

The initial organizing call for the Secular Coalition for Mississippi will be held on July 19th at 3PM ET. The SCA encourages interested participants to call in. Participation is open to anyone who supports a strong separation of religion and government and wants to get involved, irrespective of personal religious beliefs. The Secular Coalition represents 11 nontheistic member organizations and has in the past worked with other non-religious and religious organizations such as the Interfaith Alliance, Catholics for Choice and the National Council of Jewish Women. 

Other states chapters being organized later this month include Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington. Since June, the SCA successfully held initial organizing calls for new chapters in 17 states. Participants will be trained in lobbying state lawmakers, and the chapter will be provided with a website and other materials.

The Secular Coalition for America-a lobbying organization representing nontheistic Americans and advocating for a strong separation of religion and government-will launch chapters in 48 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico by the end of 2012. Two state affiliates, the Secular Coalition for Arizona and Secular Coalition for Alabama, are already operational - the SCA has elected to adopt a chapter model, instead of the affiliate model, for the subsequent 48 state groups.

"Some of the most egregious violations of church state separation are being promoted and passed at the state level, and we absolutely must act to stop it," said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. "There are 40 million Americans who don't identify with any religion, but our political influence has been limited because we have not been organized. This year, that changes." 

A recent Pew Forum study indicated that 9 percent of Mississippi residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 18 percent disagreed that "religion is very important to their lives."  Another Pew study found that the majority of Americans (54%) say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters, and 38% says that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders - a number that has grown to its highest point since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago. State chapters being organized around the country will lobby to halt such legislation

No specific legislative agenda has been set for the Mississippi chapter yet. Each chapter will be responsible for determining what issues to lobby on at the state level-provided the agenda items fall within the scope of the national organization's mission. In general, the Secular Coalition focuses on legislation that attempts to insert religion, religious privileging or religiously-based discrimination into our secular laws, or uses taxpayer funding to support, promote or proselytize religion or religious beliefs. A few examples of previous or current laws, general practice, or religiously-inspired legislation seen in Mississippi that fall within the SCA's scope as an organization are:

  • HB 101 (2012) - Allows religious exemptions from immunizations.
  • HB 343 (2012) - Prayer in schools; to authorize teachers or school administrators to open the day with a prayer or observe a moment of silence.
  • HB 348 - A bill to allow each public high school to include in its curriculum a course in Christian perspective for religious instruction as an elective.
  • HB 691/ SB 2234 (2012) - Would authorize voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints in public schools.
  • HC 35 (2012) - A resolution in support of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution relating to prayer in public schools.
  • HC 61 (2012) - A proposed constitutional "personhood" amendment that would assert a "fundamental right to life" to all "humans from conception."
  • SB 2941 (2012) - An act to provide a state income tax deduction for the parents of private or homeschool attendees, including religious those attending religious institutions or with religious curricula.

"Being residents of Mississippi, the chapter participants are going to know better than anyone else-and certainly better than us here in D.C.-what issues are affecting the people in their state the most, and which pose the greatest threat to the separation of religion and government there," said Lauren Anderson Youngblood, Communications Manager for the Secular Coalition for America. "Each chapter is going to take the lead on setting a state legislative agenda and deciding what to focus on, provided those issues fall within our wheelhouse as an organization."

The Secular Coalition, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has traditionally focused advocacy efforts on federal legislation. The SCA will continue to lobby at the federal level, while state chapters will lobby at the state level.

Secular Coalition for Mississippi is among the third round of chapters being organized by the Secular Coalition. Additional states will be rolled-out in subsequent phases:

  • Phase 4 (August 13-17) - Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Wisconsin
  • Phase 5 (September 4-21) - Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming

Rogers said lobbying at the state and local level is important on several fronts and from a long term strategic perspective.

"In our current U.S. Congress, 38 percent of Representatives held local office first," said Rogers. "When we get to law makers at the local level, not only are we going to help curb some of the most egregious legislation we're seeing, but we are also building relationships and working to educate legislators on our issues, before they even get to Washington."

Interested participants are encouraged to call in to the meeting at (530) 881-1400, Participant Access Code: 978895.  

Official call dates and the call-in phone number for subsequent chapters will be announced at Secular.org/about/states closer to the beginning of each phase. 

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