West Virginia 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 West Virginia 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 West Virginia will be held on October 18th at 1:00 PM 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.
West Virginia is part of the final phase of state chapters being organized later this month, which includes Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming. Since June, the SCA successfully held initial organizing calls for new chapters in 38 states. Participants of the Secular Coalition for West Virginia will be trained to lobby state lawmakers, and the chapter will be provided with a website and other materials.
The Secular Coalition for America-a lobbying organization representing 11 member organizations and nontheistic Americans- advocates for a strong separation of religion and government at the federal level. The Secular Coalition is launching 50 new state chapters by the end of 2012 to lobby at the state level.
"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 29 percent of West Virginia residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 24 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% say that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders.
No specific legislative agenda has been set for the West Virginia chapter yet. 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 West Virginia that fall within the SCA's scope as an organization are:
- WV HB 2126 -Would exempt children receiving an exemption from compulsory school attendance, in favor of church school, from standardized testing requirements.
- WV HB 2564- Would designate the first Thursday in May the West Virginia Day of Prayer.
- WV HB 2662- Would exempt existing churches from paying tax on propane and other forms of heating oil.
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 chapter conference calls are available at Secular.org/about/states.