Tennessee 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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee will be held on Tuesday July 17, 2012 at 3:00 PM ET (2 PM CT). 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, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, 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 16 percent of Tennessee residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 28 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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee that fall within the SCA's scope as an organization are:

  • HB 0368 - The so-called "Monkey Bill". A bill to prohibit school authorities from prohibiting teachers in public schools to critique, analyze or review "in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming." A thinly veiled attempt to create the false impression of scientific controversy and protect religiously based critiques of widely accepted scientific theories in publicly funded schools.
  • HB 3745 - A bill to provide a means for parents to request textbooks that inculcate principles of religion within the study of secular subjects.
  • HB 3621 - Bans teaching students about "gateway sexual activity." Gateway sexual activity means "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior." It further stated that a person promotes gateway sexual activity by "encouraging, advocating, urging or condoning gateway sexual activities."
  • HB 3576 - To allow religious student organizations to exclude those not deemed to be "committed to that mission." Opens the door to increased discrimination and persecution of LGBT students.
  • Religious intolerance by public leaders: In 2010, current Lt. Governor Ron Ramesy questioned whether religious liberty laws applied to Muslims, saying, "Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it..."[1]

"Being residents of Tennessee, 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 Tennessee 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) - Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Wisconsin
  • Phase 5 (September 4-21) - 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. 


[1] http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/07/tennessee-lt-gov-religious-fr...

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