Fundamentalist Minister Attempts to Stifle Secular Voices in Kentucky
Washington, DC—The Secular Coalition for America today expressed disappointment at the attempt by a Lexington, KY-based minister, to thwart the establishment of the Kentucky SCA chapter, being organized there next week.
The Secular Coalition for America is the national lobby representing nontheists, and advocates for strengthening and protecting the secular character of the government. Kentucky is among the first round of chapters being organized nationwide, with an initial organizing call on Thursday, June 6, for Kentucky supporters.
Lee Watts, leader of God & Country Ministry, and self-proclaimed “chaplain to the Kentucky state government” encouraged followers to disrupt the initial organizing call for the Kentucky SCA chapter scheduled for Thursday. His website claims the Secular Coalition is, “working to lobby state law makers to push their anti-God, anti-religious liberty agenda” and claims that the SCA is attempting to “abolish traditional marriage.”
“We are not anti-marriage or anti-religion—we are pro-religious liberty,” said Lauren Anderson Youngblood, Communications Manager for the Secular Coalition for America. “We advocate for a strong separation of religion and government because it’s the best guarantee of that liberty for all Americans, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.”
The Secular Coalition for Kentucky chapter will be open to all Kentucky residents who support the organization’s mission, regardless of religion. The Secular Coalition for Kentucky will lobby at the state level, against legislation that attempts to insert religion or religious privileging into law. State chapters will receive websites, as well as training, promotional and educational materials. Chapters will be trained, organized and supported by the Secular Coalition for America.
A recent Pew Forum study found that 17 percent of Kentucky residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 33 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.
“People are tired of religion being forced on them by politicians—they are tired of having their First Amendment rights trampled over by the very people whose job it is to uphold the laws of our secular government,” Youngblood said. “We are organizing at the state level across the country, because that is where we are seeing the most egregious laws promoting religion in government. Kentucky, in particular, has a lot of work to do.”
When it comes to introducing religiously-based legislation, Kentucky is one of the worst offenders nationwide. Among recent religiously-inspired legislation the Kentucky legislature has considered are:
- SB 15 – Bill aimed to “authorize the recitation of the traditional Lord's prayer and the pledge of allegiance to the flag in public elementary schools.” (2011)
- SB 56 – Bill attempted to establish “Bible Literacy Courses in the Public Schools” that would “provide students knowledge of biblical content.” (2011)
- HB 542 – Bill would include pastoral counselors in the definition of "mental health professional." (In Committee as of 3/5/2012)
- HB 168 – Bill aimed to insert religious refusal laws into the state Constitution. (2011)
- HB 169 – Bill aimed at attacking the scientific theory of evolution in public schools. (2011)
In addition to a host of religiously-steeped legislation, some Kentucky state lawmakers continue attempts to incorporate their particular brand of religion into the business of running the state government. Kentucky legislative sessions are traditionally opened with a prayer, and legislators regularly participate in Watts’ “ministry” at the state Capitol.
According to the State-Journal, a Frankfort, KY based newspaper, “Lee [Watts] spends five days a week at the Capitol where he counsels lawmakers, provides Bible study lessons and hosts a prayer breakfast twice a week.” The paper described one prayer breakfast, where Watts hosted a dozen lawmakers. In 2011, Watts also hosted a “Preachers’ Day at the State Capitol” to “meet with legislators for prayer” and “participate in a preaching and singing service in the Capitol Building rotunda.” Watts also provides Bibles to every legislator and insists that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Watts believes in a literal reading of the Bible and aims to "develop future Christian political leaders."
“It’s hypocritical for the very people who enjoy participation in the political process to now attempt to deny that right to others—and on the basis of the ‘religious liberty’ they claim to support,” Youngblood said. “Kentucky legislators were put in office to serve the interests of all of the citizens—not just those whose personal religious beliefs happen to coincide with their own. We respect the rights of all Americans to have their religious beliefs, but when lawmakers bring that religion to the state Capitol and attempt to incorporate it into secular laws, they are excluding thousands of taxpaying constituents who have every right to be represented by their elected officials.”
The Secular Coalition for America announced Tuesday that it would establish chapters in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico by the end of the year. Other states being rolled out in Phase 1 (June 1-22) include Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Arizona and Alabama already opperate fully functional Secular Coalition affiliates groups.
The SCA, 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.
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